Interest in ivermectin still strong despite health warnings
This comes as health experts urge caution, issue warnings on drug meant for parasite infestations
Despite warnings from experts, unsubstantiated beliefs that ivermectin can cure Covid-19 still hold strong.
Forums, social media and chat groups are rife with anecdotes of how the drug - a prescription-only drug for treating parasite infestations - has alleviated Covid-19 symptoms. Some also claim it helps reduce post-vaccination reactions.
Health experts and even Merck, a manufacturer of ivermectin, have said there is inadequate evidence that it can cure Covid-19. However, many studies are under way.
The authorities have also issued warnings that the drug may be dangerous to anyone taking it - the latest here coming from the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) on Tuesday.
Self-medicating with ivermectin is dangerous and it can only be prescribed by doctors for the purposes of treating parasitic worm infections, HSA warned.
It was responding to reports that members of the public tried to import ivermectin or use it to treat the coronavirus.
In one incident, Madam Wong Lee Tak, 65, remains hospitalised since last Friday after taking the drug on the advice of friends who insisted it protected her from the virus.
In the Telegram chat group SG Covid La Kopi, several members cast doubts that Madam Wong became ill because she had consumed ivermectin and suggested that it was a result of the Sinopharm vaccine she had taken on Sept 23. Their messages were later deleted.
In the Singapore Suspected Vaccine Injuries Telegram group, a user named Alvin said ivermectin helped with headache and chest tightness that came after his Sinopharm jab.
He encouraged others to do their own research on using the drug to treat post-vaccination symptoms, citing articles published by the Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance.
The alliance, which began as a non-profit network of doctors trying to establish Covid-19 protocols in the early days of the pandemic, has come under scrutiny for its affiliation with prominent anti-vaccine organisations.
A user named Jean Nee said she had read that ivermectin could overcome any Covid-19 variant. She did not state her sources.
Another user, Star Light, pointed members to a database of studies on ivermectin's use in preventing and treating the virus.
However, infectious diseases specialist Leong Hoe Nam said many of these studies were not based on consistent results and had flawed designs.
Many of the reports he had seen promoting ivermectin as a cure for Covid-19 suggested dosages that were "much higher than the usual dose", said Dr Leong, who is from the Rophi Clinic at Mount Elizabeth Novena.
"There are risks to the medicine," he said, adding that he prescribes ivermectin to his patients only in single doses, to treat parasite infections like roundworms or scabies.
In large doses, the drug can become toxic, which is what Madam Wong could have experienced, added Dr Leong.
For adults, oral dosage is usually 0.15mg per kg of body weight as a single dose, with the next dose three to 12 months later if necessary.
Madam Wong had purchased roughly 1,000 tablets for $110 through an order facilitated by her friends. It is believed she took four 3mg tablets before being hospitalised on the second day of taking ivermectin.
Many members in three chat groups seen by ST shared websites, said to be based in India, selling ivermectin.
It is a similar story in the United States, in spite of warnings by the US Food and Drug Administration that the drug was not suitable as Covid-19 treatment.
Prescriptions for ivermectin jumped to more than 88,000 every week in mid-August, according to researchers from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Before the pandemic, the numbers were around 3,600 weekly.
Poison control centres in Florida, Mississippi and Texas reported a recent surge in cases linked to ivermectin overdose, the National Geographic reported on Sept 3.
Ivermectin was one of many drugs studied when scientists were looking to find safe generic drugs that could be repurposed for Covid-19 treatment.
"The concept of a repurposed drug, a cure that was always available right under our noses, makes it so appealing," said Dr Leong.
"All of us are always looking for that scoop - that special medicine or cure. All these (eventually) became unfounded but the damage was done."
He said the large groups encouraging the use of ivermectin made him "worried" and he urged members to be discerning.
"The Internet is full of echo chamber silos of various thoughts. Each person becomes more assured of his unshakeable belief, and closes mind to reality or reason," he said.
The HSA warned on Tuesday that it will take strong action against the illegal sale and supply of ivermectin and other medicines.
Those convicted of selling these drugs illegally can face a penalty of up to $50,000 and/or imprisonment of up to two years.