Last Updated: February 11, 2021
Ivermectin is a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved antiparasitic drug that is used to treat several neglected tropical diseases, including onchocerciasis, helminthiases, and scabies.1 It is also being evaluated for its potential to reduce the rate of malaria transmission by killing mosquitoes that feed on treated humans and livestock.2 For these indications, ivermectin has been widely used and is generally well tolerated.1,3 Ivermectin is not approved by the FDA for the treatment of any viral infection.
Proposed Mechanism of Action and Rationale for Use in Patients With COVID-19
Reports from in vitro studies suggest that ivermectin acts by inhibiting the host importin alpha/beta-1 nuclear transport proteins, which are part of a key intracellular transport process that viruses hijack to enhance infection by suppressing the host’s antiviral response.4,5 In addition, ivermectin docking may interfere with the attachment of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) spike protein to the human cell membrane.6 Ivermectin is thought to be a host-directed agent, which may be the basis for its broad-spectrum activity in vitro against the viruses that cause dengue, Zika, HIV, and yellow fever.4,7-9 Despite this in vitro activity, no clinical trials have reported a clinical benefit for ivermectin in patients with these viruses. Some studies of ivermectin have also reported potential anti-inflammatory properties, which have been postulated to be beneficial in people with COVID-19.10-12
Some observational cohorts and clinical trials have evaluated the use of ivermectin for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. Data from some of these studies can be found in Table 2c.
- There are insufficient data for the COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel (the Panel) to recommend either for or against the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19. Results from adequately powered, well-designed, and well-conducted clinical trials are needed to provide more specific, evidence-based guidance on the role of ivermectin in the treatment of COVID-19.
Ivermectin has been shown to inhibit the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in cell cultures.13 However, pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic studies suggest that achieving the plasma concentrations necessary for the antiviral efficacy detected in vitro would require administration of doses up to 100-fold higher than those approved for use in humans.14,15 Even though ivermectin appears to accumulate in the lung tissue, predicted systemic plasma and lung tissue concentrations are much lower than 2 µM, the half-maximal inhibitory concentration (IC50) against SARS-CoV-2 in vitro.16-19 Subcutaneous administration of ivermectin 400 µg/kg had no effect on SARS-CoV-2 viral loads in hamsters. However, there was a reduction in olfactory deficit (measured using a food-finding test) and a reduction in the interleukin (IL)-6:IL-10 ratio in lung tissues.20
Since the last revision of this section of the Guidelines, the results of several randomized trials and retrospective cohort studies of ivermectin use in patients with COVID-19 have been published in peer-reviewed journals or have been made available as manuscripts ahead of peer review. Some clinical studies showed no benefits or worsening of disease after ivermectin use,21-24 whereas others reported shorter time to resolution of disease manifestations that were attributed to COVID-19,25-28 greater reduction in inflammatory marker levels,26,27 shorter time to viral clearance,21,26 or lower mortality rates in patients who received ivermectin than in patients who received comparator drugs or placebo.21,26,28
However, most of these studies had incomplete information and significant methodological limitations, which make it difficult to exclude common causes of bias. These limitations include:
- The sample size of most of the trials was small.
- Various doses and schedules of ivermectin were used.
- Some of the randomized controlled trials were open-label studies in which neither the participants nor the investigators were blinded to the treatment arms.
- Patients received various concomitant medications (e.g., doxycycline, hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, zinc, corticosteroids) in addition to ivermectin or the comparator drug. This confounded the assessment of the efficacy or safety of ivermectin.
- The severity of COVID-19 in the study participants was not always well described.
- The study outcome measures were not always clearly defined.
Table 2c includes summaries of key studies. Because most of these studies have significant limitations, the Panel cannot draw definitive conclusions on the clinical efficacy of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19. Results from adequately powered, well-designed, and well-conducted clinical trials are needed to provide further guidance on the role of ivermectin in the treatment of COVID-19.
Monitoring, Adverse Effects, and Drug-Drug Interactions
- Ivermectin is generally well tolerated. Adverse effects may include dizziness, pruritis, nausea, or diarrhea.
- Neurological adverse effects have been reported with the use of ivermectin for the treatment of onchocerciasis and other parasitic diseases, but it is not clear whether these adverse effects were caused by ivermectin or the underlying conditions.29
- Ivermectin is a minor cytochrome P 3A4 substrate and a p-glycoprotein substrate.
- Ivermectin is generally given on an empty stomach with water; however, administering ivermectin with food increases its bioavailability.
- The FDA issued a warning in April 2020 that ivermectin intended for use in animals should not be used to treat COVID-19 in humans.
- Please see Table 2c for additional information.
Considerations in Pregnancy
In animal studies, ivermectin was shown to be teratogenic when given in doses that were maternotoxic. These results raise concerns about administering ivermectin to people who are in the early stages of pregnancy (prior to 10 weeks gestation).30 A 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis reviewed the incidence of poor maternal and fetal outcomes after ivermectin was used for its antiparasitic properties during pregnancy. However, the study was unable to establish a causal relationship between ivermectin use and poor maternal or fetal outcomes due to the quality of evidence. There are numerous reports of inadvertent ivermectin use in early pregnancy without apparent adverse effects.31-33 Therefore, there is insufficient evidence to establish the safety of using ivermectin in pregnant people, especially those in the later stages of pregnancy.
One study reported that the ivermectin concentrations secreted in breastmilk after a single oral dose were relatively low. No studies have evaluated the ivermectin concentrations in breastmilk in patients who received multiple doses.
Considerations in Children
Ivermectin is used in children weighing >15 kg for the treatment of helminthic infections, pediculosis, and scabies. The safety of using ivermectin in children weighing <15 kg has not been well established. Ivermectin is generally well tolerated in children, with a side effect profile similar to the one seen in adults. Currently, there are no available pediatric data from clinical trials to inform the use of ivermectin for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 in children.
Several clinical trials that are evaluating the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19 are currently underway or in development. Please see ClinicalTrials.gov for the latest information.
- Omura S, Crump A. Ivermectin: panacea for resource-poor communities? Trends Parasitol. 2014;30(9):445-455. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25130507.
- Fritz ML, Siegert PY, Walker ED, Bayoh MN, Vulule JR, Miller JR. Toxicity of bloodmeals from ivermectin-treated cattle to Anopheles gambiae s.l. Ann Trop Med Parasitol. 2009;103(6):539-547. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19695159.
- Kircik LH, Del Rosso JQ, Layton AM, Schauber J. Over 25 years of clinical experience with ivermectin: an overview of safety for an increasing number of indications. J Drugs Dermatol. 2016;15(3):325-332. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26954318.
- Yang SNY, Atkinson SC, Wang C, et al. The broad spectrum antiviral ivermectin targets the host nuclear transport importin alpha/beta1 heterodimer. Antiviral Res. 2020. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32135219.
- Arévalo AP, Pagotto R, Pórfido J, et al. Ivermectin reduces coronavirus infection in vivo: a mouse experimental model. bioRxiv. 2020;Preprint. Available at: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.11.02.363242v1.
- Lehrer S, Rheinstein PH. Ivermectin docks to the SARS-CoV-2 spike receptor-binding domain attached to ACE2. In Vivo. 2020;34(5):3023-3026. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32871846.
- Tay MY, Fraser JE, Chan WK, et al. Nuclear localization of dengue virus (DENV) 1-4 non-structural protein 5; protection against all 4 DENV serotypes by the inhibitor ivermectin. Antiviral Res. 2013;99(3):301-306. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23769930.
- Wagstaff KM, Sivakumaran H, Heaton SM, Harrich D, Jans DA. Ivermectin is a specific inhibitor of importin alpha/beta-mediated nuclear import able to inhibit replication of HIV-1 and dengue virus. Biochem J. 2012;443(3):851-856. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22417684.
- Barrows NJ, Campos RK, Powell ST, et al. A screen of FDA-approved drugs for inhibitors of Zika virus infection. Cell Host Microbe. 2016;20(2):259-270. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27476412.
- Zhang X, Song Y, Ci X, et al. Ivermectin inhibits LPS-induced production of inflammatory cytokines and improves LPS-induced survival in mice. Inflamm Res. 2008;57(11):524-529. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19109745.
- DiNicolantonio JJ, Barroso J, McCarty M. Ivermectin may be a clinically useful anti-inflammatory agent for late-stage COVID-19. Open Heart. 2020;7(2). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32895293.
- Ci X, Li H, Yu Q, et al. Avermectin exerts anti-inflammatory effect by downregulating the nuclear transcription factor kappa-B and mitogen-activated protein kinase activation pathway. Fundam Clin Pharmacol. 2009;23(4):449-455. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19453757.
- Caly L, Druce JD, Catton MG, Jans DA, Wagstaff KM. The FDA-approved drug ivermectin inhibits the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in vitro. Antiviral Res. 2020;178:104787. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32251768.
- Chaccour C, Hammann F, Ramon-Garcia S, Rabinovich NR. Ivermectin and COVID-19: keeping rigor in times of urgency. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2020;102(6):1156-1157. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32314704.
- Guzzo CA, Furtek CI, Porras AG, et al. Safety, tolerability, and pharmacokinetics of escalating high doses of ivermectin in healthy adult subjects. J Clin Pharmacol. 2002;42(10):1122-1133. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12362927.
- Arshad U, Pertinez H, Box H, et al. Prioritization of anti-SARS-CoV-2 drug repurposing opportunities based on plasma and target site concentrations derived from their established human pharmacokinetics. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2020;108(4):775-790. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32438446.
- Bray M, Rayner C, Noel F, Jans D, Wagstaff K. Ivermectin and COVID-19: a report in antiviral research, widespread interest, an FDA warning, two letters to the editor and the authors' responses. Antiviral Res. 2020;178:104805. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32330482.
- Momekov G, Momekova D. Ivermectin as a potential COVID-19 treatment from the pharmacokinetic point of view: antiviral levels are not likely attainable with known dosing regimens. Biotechnology & Biotechnological Equipment. 2020;34(1):469-474. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13102818.2020.1775118.
- Jermain B, Hanafin PO, Cao Y, Lifschitz A, Lanusse C, Rao GG. Development of a minimal physiologically-based pharmacokinetic model to simulate lung exposure in humans following oral administration of ivermectin for COVID-19 drug repurposing. J Pharm Sci. 2020;109(12):3574-3578. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32891630.
- de Melo GD, Lazarini F, Larrous F, et al. Anti-COVID-19 efficacy of ivermectin in the golden hamster. bioRxiv. 2020;Preprint. Available at: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.11.21.392639v1.
- Ahmed S, Karim MM, Ross AG, et al. A five-day course of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19 may reduce the duration of illness. Int J Infect Dis. 2020;103:214-216. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/33278625.
- Chachar AZK, Khan KA, Asif M, Tanveer K, Khaqan A, Basri R. Effectiveness of ivermectin in SARS-COV-2/COVID-19 Patients. Int J of Sci. 2020;9:31-35. Available at: https://www.ijsciences.com/pub/article/2378.
- Chowdhury ATMM, Shahbaz M, Karim MR, Islam J, Guo D, He S. A randomized trial of ivermectin-doxycycline and hydroxychloroquine-azithromycin therapy on COVID19 patients. Research Square. 2020;Preprint. Available at: https://assets.researchsquare.com/files/rs-38896/v1/3ee350c3-9d3f-4253-85f9-1f17f3af9551.pdf.
- Soto-Becerra P, Culquichicón C, Hurtado-Roca Y, Araujo-Castillo RV. Real-world effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, and ivermectin among hospitalized COVID-19 patients: results of a target trial emulation using observational data from a nationwide healthcare system in Peru. medRxiv. 2020;Preprint. Available at: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.10.06.20208066v3.
- Hashim HA, Maulood MF, Rasheed AW, Fatak DF, Kabah KK, Abdulamir AS. Controlled randomized clinical trial on using ivermectin with doxycycline for treating COVID-19 patients in Baghdad, Iraq. medRxiv. 2020;Preprint. Available at: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.10.26.20219345v1/.
- Elgazzar A, Hany B, Youssef SA, Hafez M, Moussa H, Eltaweel A. Efficacy and safety of ivermectin for treatment and prophylaxis of COVID-19 pandemic. Research Square. 2020;Preprint. Available at: https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-100956/v2.
- Niaee MS, Gheibi N, Namdar P, et al. Ivermectin as an adjunct treatment for hospitalized adult COVID-19 patients: a randomized multi-center clinical trial. Research Square. 2020;Preprint. Available at: https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-109670/v1.
- Khan MSI, Khan MSI, Debnath CR, et al. Ivermectin treatment may improve the prognosis of patients with COVID-19. Arch Bronconeumol. 2020;56(12):828-830. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/33293006.
- Chandler RE. Serious neurological adverse events after ivermectin—do they occur beyond the indication of onchocerciasis? Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2018;98(2):382-388. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29210346.
- Ivermectin [package insert]. DailyMed. 2017. Available at: https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/fda/fdaDrugXsl.cfm?setid=847a1dd7-d65b-4a0e-a67d-d90392059dac&type=display.
- Pacque M, Munoz B, Poetschke G, Foose J, Greene BM, Taylor HR. Pregnancy outcome after inadvertent ivermectin treatment during community-based distribution. Lancet. 1990;336(8729):1486-1489. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1979100.
- Chippaux JP, Gardon-Wendel N, Gardon J, Ernould JC. Absence of any adverse effect of inadvertent ivermectin treatment during pregnancy. Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg. 1993;87(3):318. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8236406.
- Gyapong JO, Chinbuah MA, Gyapong M. Inadvertent exposure of pregnant women to ivermectin and albendazole during mass drug administration for lymphatic filariasis. Trop Med Int Health. 2003;8(12):1093-1101. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14641844.
- Ogbuokiri JE, Ozumba BC, Okonkwo PO. Ivermectin levels in human breastmilk. Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 1993;45(4):389-390. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8299677.