Drug commonly used for lice & parasitic infections could potentially treat COVID-19, researchers say

Researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia conducted a study where they found that an anti-parasitic drug, known as Ivermectin, was able to eliminate the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the disease that creates COVID-19, within 48 hours. 

While the tests were conducted at a cellular level, or in vitro, and human clinical trials are still needed in order to determine the correct human dosage and potential effectiveness, researchers say “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.”

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According to the university, Ivermectin is an FDA-approved anti-parasitic drug that has also been shown to be effective against a broad range of viruses including HIV and Dengue fever, when tested in a cellular environment.

But Dr. Kylie Wagstaff, a key author in the study, warned of the limitations of their results, saying that further testing to establish effectiveness on humans is still required.

“Ivermectin is very widely used and seen as a safe drug. We need to figure out now whether the dosage you can use it at in humans will be effective – that’s the next step,” Wagstaff said.

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The study noted that Ivermectin was the focus of recent trials to treat patients in Thailand with Dengue, a mosquito-borne illness which the World Health Organization estimates causes 100-400 million infections each year. The trials found that while scientists were able to develop healthy doses for humans, it produced no clinical benefit. 

While Monash University researchers pointed out that Dengue is very different from COVID-19, “this trial design should inform future work going forward.” 

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The pace at which the SARS-CoV-2 virus has spread across the globe is jolting, but equally impressive is the speed at which scientists and clinicians have been fighting back as governments are desperate for a cure. 

President Donald Trump and his administration have promoted an anti-malaria drug not officially approved for fighting the new coronavirus, even though scientists say more testing is needed before it’s proven safe and effective against COVID-19.

Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro championed hydroxychloroquine in television interviews, shortly after the president publicly put his faith in the medication to lessen the toll of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

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“What do I know, I’m not a doctor," Trump said early April. “But I have common sense.” In promoting the drug's possibilities, the president has often stated, ”What have you got to lose?“

Trump held out promise for the drug as he grasps for ways to sound hopeful in the face of a mounting death toll. The virus had killed more than 25,000 in the U.S. as of April 14, and measures meant to contain its spread had taken a painful economic toll and all but frozen life in large swaths of the country.

While the White House has advocated for the use of the anti-malaria drug as a means to fight the ever-spreading coronavirus, medical officials warn that it's dangerous to hawk unproven remedies, and even Trump's own experts have cautioned against it.

The top U.S. infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has repeatedly said current studies on the drug provide only anecdotal findings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.