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An antiparasitic drug sometimes used to treat head lice has undergone preliminary studies for use in the fight against the coronavirus — and has shown promising results, according to reports.
While recent reports have focused on the anti-malarial hydroxychloroquine as a possible miracle treatment, experts have expressed cautious optimism that ivermectin also could be used for COVID-19, ABC News reported.
“Finding a safe, affordable, readily available therapy like ivermectin, if it proves effective with rigorous evaluation, has the potential to save countless lives,” Dr. Nirav Shah, an infectious disease specialist at the NorthShore University HealthSystem, told the network.
Ivermectin — which was developed in the 1970s and 1980s — was first used to treat tiny roundworms called nematodes in cattle, then for river blindness in humans, and most recently to rid people of head lice, ABC News reported.
The drug’s antiparasitic prowess has landed it on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines.
And recently, a team of Australian scientists has studied ivermectin in vitro in connection with the coronavirus pandemic.
“We found that even a single dose could essentially remove all viral RNA by 48 hours and that even at 24 hours, there was a really significant reduction in it,” Dr. Kylie Wagstaff, the leader of the team from Melbourne’s Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, told ABC.
Although the coronavirus is not a parasite, experts suggest that ivermectin basically treats it like one, blocking the viral RNA — ribonucleic acid — from invading healthy cells and giving the immune system more time to fight off the illness.
The next step, according to the researchers, is “to determine the correct human dosage — ensuring the doses shown to effectively treat the virus in vitro are safe for humans.”
Shah cautioned that “there are numerous examples of drugs with in vitro activity not proving effective in human studies.”
But he added: “That being said, given there are no proven therapies against COVID-19 to date and we are in the midst of a pandemic, drugs that show promise in early in vitro or observational studies such as ivermectin should be rigorously evaluated to understand safety and effectiveness.”
Another study conducted by researchers at the University of Utah found that “critically ill patients with lung injury requiring mechanical ventilation may benefit from administration of ivermectin,” ABC News reported.
“We noted a lower mortality and reduced health care resource use in those treated with ivermectin,” wrote lead author Dr. Amit Patel.
And at Broward Health Medical Center in Florida, Dr. Jean-Jacques Rajter has already been using ivermectin in addition to hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin and zinc sulfate to treat his COVID-19 patients, according to NBC Miami.
“If we get to these people early, and what I mean by that is if their oxygen requirements are less than 50 percent, I’ve had nearly a 100 percent response rate, they all improve, if they’re on more oxygen than that, then it becomes a little more varied, some people, they don’t respond anymore because they are too far advanced,” Rajter told the outlet.
The doctor is in the process of publishing a scientific paper, but it could take weeks for the findings to be publicized.
“But if I wait, every day that goes by is another day when lots and lots of people get very sick, go to ICU, many of them die and that could theoretically even be preventable and that’s why I thought it was so critically important to get this information out there,” he said.
His wife, Dr. Juliana Cepelowicz-Rajter, also a pulmonologist, said: “More studies need to be conducted. We haven’t had any ill effects from it and it’s readily available, we have some patients who are pretty advanced, not yet intubated, and even those, in 12 hours, they showed a significant improvement.”
On Monday, Rajter received approval from Broward Health to use his protocol in all of their hospitals.
One of the patients who was treated with the cocktail including ivermectin is now recovering at Broward Health Medical Center.
“I’m blessed with God, I’m blessed surely with my doctor, I’m definitely blessed with my nurses because they are wonderful staff and I’m blessed with that medicine because I didn’t know it was gonna happen,” John Reed told NBC Miami via FaceTime from his hospital bed.
“It saved my life, trust me, it saved my life,” he added.
Despite the promising results, the Australian and Utah studies noted that their findings require further examination.
“I think between the two studies, there is some optimism — but I would remain cautious,” Dr. Christopher DeSimone, an infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic, told ABC News.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week wrote that it “is concerned about the health of consumers who may self-medicate by taking ivermectin products intended for animals, thinking they can be a substitute for ivermectin intended for humans.”
The agency added: “Additional testing is needed to determine whether ivermectin might be safe or effective to prevent or treat coronavirus or COVID-19.”
Rajter cautioned that ivermectin is “not a miracle cure.”
“To me the message remains the same as it’s been all along: social distancing, stay away from people, wear a mask, which I took off for the interview, wash your hands, when you bring something into the home, make sure you sanitize everything, that is really the message,” he told NBC Miami.