Do not self-prescribe ivermectin for treatment of COVID-19

September 9, 2021
An image of a horse's legs. Ivermectin, a drug primarily used to deworm the intestinal tract in animals, should not be used as a treatment for COVID-19.
Ivermectin, a drug primarily used to deworm the intestinal tract in animals, should not be self-prescribed as a treatment for COVID-19. Photo: Getty Images.

A doctor who grew up on a horse farm and used ivermectin for animals has a stern warning for people who think they should take the drug for COVID-19: Don’t do it.

“It’s not an antiviral drug. It’s not designed or meant to be a treatment for COVID-19,” said Dr. George Hertner, chief of emergency medicine for UCHealth in southern Colorado. “My big messages are get a vaccine and wear a mask.  Trust your healthcare provider not social media for your healthcare decisions.’’

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued stern warnings about the egregious and misleading social media promotions of Ivermectin for COVID-19: “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.’’

Even the drug’s manufacturer, Merck, has warned people not to use Ivermectin for humans who are suffering from COVID-19 or worried about getting it. Merck’s researchers warned that there is:

  • “No scientific basis for potential therapeutic effect against COVID-19.”
  • “No meaningful evidence…for clinical efficacy in patients with COVID-19.”
  • And “a concerning lack of safety data” on the use of ivermectin related to COVID-19.

Certain forms of ivermectin are approved in the U.S. to treat or prevent parasites in animals. This includes pour-on, injectable, paste and “drench” forms. Ivermectin tablets are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human use at very exact doses to treat some parasitic worms. There are also topical (on the skin) forms for head lice and skin conditions like rosacea.

Ivermectin is not approved to prevent or treat COVID-19 and the The American Medical Association (AMA), American Pharmacists Association (APhA), and American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) strongly oppose the ordering, prescribing, or dispensing of ivermectin to prevent or treat COVID-19 outside of a clinical trial. The anti-parasitic ivermectin, with antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, has now been tested in small clinical trials to determine whether it is effective in treating COVID-19. More research on the effectiveness of ivermectin is needed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also warns that ivermectin is not approved for treatment of COVID-19.

Hertner, who sees patients in UCHealth ERs, grew up on a farm and is familiar with ivermectin and its intended uses.

“I grew up giving animals ivermectin to remove worms from their intestinal tract,’’ he said. “You give this drug to pigs; you give this drug to sheep.’’

Dr. George Hertner's photo
Dr. George Hertner

Hertner says some of his patients have become upset when he declined to prescribe Ivermectin, which is sold at farm and ranch stores and from internet suppliers. But, ivermectin should only be used for humans in rare cases when a person has parasites like lice and ringworm.

Hertner said ivermectin should never be prescribed for patients suffering from COVID-19.

“It’s not the right time or situation to prescribe it,’’ Hertner said.

Dr. Richard Zane, executive director of emergency services and chief innovation officer for UCHealth, echoed Hertner’s stern warnings about the dangers of ivermectin.

“COVID-19 is a virus, not a parasite. Anyone suggesting you take it is trying to harm you on purpose,” said Zane, who is also a professor and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus.

“It is unethical and immoral for anyone to recommend this medicine for COVID-19. There is zero evidence that it works in any way, shape or form,” Zane said. “Anything you hear from anybody as a proponent for ivermectin is invented or designed to mislead or hurt you.”

The best way to stay safe and healthy is to get a vaccine to prevent COVID-19.

Health experts at the FDA have warned that taking ivermectin in large doses can cause side effects including ‘skin rash, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, facial or limb swelling, neurologic adverse events, sudden drop in blood pressure, severe skin rash potentially requiring hospitalization and liver injury.’’

Despite the warnings, people are buying the livestock version of the drug and self-medicating.

“Just think about it,’’ Dr. Hertner said. “You’re going to a livestock store, getting something off the shelf that is built to go into say a 2,000-pound animal and you’re trying to figure out how much you should give yourself.’’

Some patients who have taken ivermectin end up in the emergency room, he said.

“These are desperate times, people are worried, people are scared,’’ said Hertner, who is perplexed that people would take an unproven, potentially unsafe treatment intended to deworm animals but not get vaccinated, despite study after study that proves they are safe.

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.