RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Doctors at Duke want to know once and for all whether Ivermectin can actually work against COVID-19.
They’re leading a national study that is testing how effective the polarizing horse-dewormer and two other common drugs are against the virus.
“We’re aiming to find out, one way or another, does it have a role?” said Dr. Adrian Hernandez, one of the leaders of the study. “And if so, what is it?”
The ACTIV-6 study has a goal of 15,000 people from across the nation. More than 2,500 have signed up so far, including about 1,500 who did so during the omicron surge of the past month, Hernandez said.
It began over the summer and isn’t expected to wrap up until March 2023, but Hernandez says he hopes to have some results within the next month.
“If we’re going to get answers around COVID-19, all these people volunteering their time, their effort, to contribute will help everyone else out,” he said.
In addition to Ivermectin — or, of course, a placebo — participants also could receive the anti-depressant fluvoxamine or fluticasone furoate, an inhalant typically given to asthma patients with problems breathing.
“The aim was to look for drugs that have already been around, being used for other indications, so their safety is well-known,” Hernandez said. “They don’t interact with other drugs, so it can easily be prescribed and can be done at home as someone gets diagnosed with COVID-19.”
But the headliner is Ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug used to deworm horses.
It drew attention over the past few months by some on social media, even as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has not approved it, warned people not to take it.
A tweet from the agency — “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.” — went viral over the summer.
Hernandez warns against self-medicating with the veterinary-strength version of the medication but said he is keeping “very much an open mind here” about whether a dose appropriate for people can actually be an effective COVID treatment.
“There’s a lot of differences, for example, between horses and humans,” Hernandez said. “We really have to study drugs that have been proven to be safe at the dose for humans, and take anything else as really high risk.”
Previous studies found it could slow the speed at which the virus multiplies in a lab, but studies in humans were “really small and not definitive,” Hernandez said.
“Taking ideas from a Petri dish to, actually, the population is really critical,” he said.
And that can be a significant jump, as another expert said when discussing a previous study that showed compounds in two other common products — milk and Benadryl — showed promise in a Florida lab study of cells from monkeys and human lungs.
A North Carolina lawmaker from the state’s top dairy-producing county promoted that study on social media, telling people to “drink up.”
“There’s a lot of things that we don’t understand about COVID-19, the virus itself, how it interacts with humans and also in different organs,” Hernandez said. “The purpose of ACTIV-6 is actually to take that holistic approach. How does a drug have any benefits or risk for humans? And not only short term, in terms of helping them feel better, (but) can it prevent someone from going to hospital or even dying or having long COVID-19?”
People can enroll in the study by clicking this link, but they must meet three criteria:
— At least 30 years old.
— Have tested positive for COVID in the past 10 days.
— Have shown at least two symptoms for seven or fewer days.