Local doctor sees spike in patients seeking parasite drug for COVID treatment

CHARLOTTE — While there are three COVID-19 vaccines available, doctors and scientists continue researching other medications to fight the coronavirus. They’re focused on helping those who get it early on and to keep them out of the hospital.

One medication -- ivermectin -- that is being studied treats parasite infections.

Channel 9′s DaShawn Brown found out that a local doctor is swamped with requests for it, even though it hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The majority of the requests are from those who aren’t vaccinated.

Dr. Will Conner has noticed a trend in the last few weeks. Patients who decided not to get the vaccine are requesting more preventative medicine not yet approved to help treat COVID, Conner said.

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“This is a drug, ivermectin, that has not received the controlled clinical trials that are necessary to validate the medication and for it to do what people think that its doing,” said Conner. “Now they’re coming on these different telemedicine apps thinking that doctors will unscrupulously prescribe this medication, which is not proven.”

In March, the FDA released a fact sheet that explained why someone should not take ivermectin to treat COVID.

The FDA stated that it hasn’t yet reviewed data to verify its safe but acknowledged there are studies underway. The FDA also stated even approved uses can interact with other medications and it is possible to overdose.

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“This is the goal for ACTIV-6 is to try to understand which drugs actually can prevent people from worsening their COVID conditions or from developing worsening symptoms,” said Dr. Adrian Hernandez, Duke University School of Medicine.

The Duke Clinical Research Institute is leading its own nationwide study called ACTIV-6. The focus is on three medications approved for other uses to find out which, if any, can effectively treat mild- to moderate-COVID cases.

“The clinical guidelines do not currently recommend ivermectin for care of COVID-19 directly, because we don’t have those answers yet,” Hernandez said. “Our recommendations and those of others, are only to evaluate it or use in the setting of a clinical trial like ACTIV-6.”

The medications in the study are:

  • Ivermectin, used to treat parasitic infections
  • FluvoxaMINE, often prescribed for depression
  • Fluticasone, a steroid often used to treat asthma

“There are two issues we’re trying to address,” Hernandez said. “One is, sometimes those therapies may be too late and tackling the disease early is important. The second thing is, they may be hard to administer. Some require IV infusions and that’s not necessarily convenient treatment for some who have mild to moderate COVID-19.”

“You know, I would love for there to be a safe, effective treatment, as a primary care doctor,” Conner said. “We would like nothing but that.”

Conner said that an approved treatment could benefit everyone after it’s been proven safe.

“My main concern is people are very frustrated that there is not an outpatient treatment for this, so they are seeking out treatments that are also not FDA-approved to give them comfort that they may be doing something to prevent COVID, which is doing nothing to prevent the spread of COVID,” Conner said. “And that’s what happens when we get herd immunity by vaccination. We prevent the spread of COVID.”

In the clinical trial at Duke University, the medications are being used to treat patients who currently have COVID, mild or moderate cases.

It is not being tested as a means to prevent the virus, and doctors warn taking these medications without surveillance from a doctor can be very dangerous.

(Watch the video below: Lab tries to make COVID-19 treatment for high-risk patients more accessible)