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Ivermectin: has the UK approved drug, can it be used to treat Covid - what has Laurence Fox said about it?

Ivermectin is primarily a veterinary deworming agent, and has not been approved for use against Covid in either the UK or US

Ivermectin, a controversial some claim can be used to treat Covid-19, has found itself in the news again.

That’s because of actor and anti-lockdown campaigner Laurence Fox, just days after speaking out against vaccines online, has revealed he has tested positive for Covid-19.

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Fox announced his diagnosis on Sunday (30 January) on Twitter, with a tweet of a positive lateral flow test, and said he was “On the #Ivermectin” as treatment.

But the drug’s use is not backed by credible scientific evidence: ivermectin is primarily a veterinary deworming agent, and has not been approved for use against Covid by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Ivermectin has become the drug of choice amongst many Covid and vaccine skeptics, like controversial podcaster Joe Rogan who has recommended the drug in the past.

Here is everything you need to know about it.

What is Ivermectin?

A supporter of President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro holds a large box of box of Ivermectin (Photo: Andressa Anholete/Getty Images)

While primarily a veterinary drug - most commonly used on horses - ivermectin tablets are approved at very specific doses for humans.

They can be used to treat some parasitic worms, and there are topical (on the skin) formulations for head lice and certain skin conditions.

Professor Chris Butler, from the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, said: “Ivermectin is readily available globally, has been in wide use for many other infectious conditions so it’s a well-known medicine with a good safety profile.”

Can it treat Covid?

Ivermectin is not an antiviral (a drug for treating viruses), and taking large doses is dangerous and can cause serious harm.

But the drug has been pushed by right-wing politicians and activists promoting it as a supposed Covid treatment.

Misinformation about ivermectin's efficacy has spread widely on social media, fuelled by publications that have since been retracted and conspiracy theories about efforts by governments and scientists to "suppress the evidence."

Earlier this month, US health experts expressed concerns from reports of sharp increases in outpatient prescribing and dispensing of ivermectin compared to levels before the pandemic.

The FDA specifically warns against using it to treat Covid in a statement on its website, which says: “FDA has not approved ivermectin for use in treating or preventing Covid-19 in humans.”

Are there trials?

That being said, in June 2021 it was announced that researchers were looking into whether the drug can be used to treat those infected with Covid-19, but the results of the trial have not been disclosed.

The Principle study, led by the University of Oxford, looked at the efficacy of the treatment which has been used in Latin America and South Africa during the pandemic.

It is said ivermectin led to a reduction of virus replication in laboratory analysis, and a pilot study showed the drug could also reduce viral load and symptom duration in patients with mild Covid-19.

Professor Butler said that because of early promising results in some studies, ivermectin is “already being widely used to treat Covid-19 in several countries.”

“By including ivermectin in a large-scale trial like Principle, we hope to generate robust evidence to determine how effective the treatment is against Covid-19, and whether there are benefits or harms associated with its use.”

The study is part of a wider one evaluating treatments that can help people recover more quickly from coronavirus and prevent the need for hospital admission, and ivermectin is the seventh drug to be analysed.

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