Covid-19: Small clinical study finds that ivermectin has potential - to decrease viral load

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  • Ivermectin has been found to decrease the viral load of Covid-19
  • The study’s aim was to establish the drug’s potential use against Covid-19 
  • Further clinical trials are needed to establish ivermectin's impact on the virus 

Early administration of ivermectin can reduce viral loads and symptom duration in patients with mild Covid-19, according to a small new study.

How effective is ivermectin?

The research published in EClinicalMedicine, a clinical journal by The Lancet, enrolled 24 patients in a randomised trial. Half of them took ivermectin and the other half a placebo within the first 72 hours after the first symptoms started. 

The patients were observed for 28 days. There was no difference in positive test results after seven days on treatment.

However, the findings revealed that the viral load in the ivermectin-treated group was lower.

The viral load was around three times lower at four days and up to 18 times lower at seven days post-treatment. This could mean that ivermectin may help reduce viral transmission.

“Many efforts are focusing on developing treatments for Covid-19, but few are addressing how to reduce viral transmission,” says study coordinator Dr Carlos Chaccour, researcher at ISGlobal and physician at The University Clinic of Navarra in a press release.

In an online survey with patients who took both the placebo and ivermectin, patients in the latter group reported fewer days of symptoms than those who took the placebo. There were mainly two symptoms – coughing and sense of smell. The ivermectin group reported 50% less loss of smell than those in the placebo group. The ivermectin group also reported 30% less cough.

Limitation of the study

The study authors say that the aim of this pilot study was to establish whether further investments in the potential repurposing of ivermectin were warranted.

The authors said that they did not seek to provide definitive evidence on ivermectin, but rather to explore a potential signal for the use of it in Covid-19 - hence the small sample size.

They also caution that the study has several key limitations that warrant careful interpretation of the results.

They also make clear that the study was restricted to subjects with non-severe disease and no risk factors - and treatment was provided in the first 48 hours of fever or coughing.

Researchers hadn't set out to detect differences in viral load but findings show that a small effect was detected.

Larger clinical trials need to be conducted to determine risk factors and more severe diseases.

“Although our study is small and it is too early to draw conclusions, the trends observed in viral loads, symptom duration and antibody levels are encouraging and warrant further exploration in larger clinical trials with a higher diversity of patients," Chaccour says.

Ivermectin in SA

The South African Health Products Regulatory Association said it will allow for use of ivermectin in Covid-19, in exceptional, compassionate-use cases.

This would be part of a "controlled, compassionate, access programme" where healthcare practitioners could apply for use in patients, and have to closely monitor the situation. 

The regulator, however, stressed, that use of the product was only allowed as part of this programme.

*This story has been updated with the latest information from SAHPRA on 27 January.

READ | Sahpra to 'revisit' ivermectin research

READ | Body temperature scanners of limited value in detecting Covid-19, researchers say

Image credit: Getty Images

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