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Do not use animal heartworm drug to treat coronavirus, FDA warns

There is concern people may try to self-medicate after a study showed the drug had positive effects against the virus in a lab setting.

The FDA is warning that people should not take a heartworm and anti-parasitic drug meant for animals as a treatment for the new coronavirus. It comes after a recent lab study showed promising signs that the drug could affect the virus.

There is a version of ivermectin that is approved for use in humans for the treatment of some parasitic worms, head lice and skin conditions, according to the FDA. But there is a different version that is approved for use in animals for the prevention of heartworms and treatment of parasites.

The FDA says a study published on April 3 indicated that ivermectin showed signs of inhibiting the coronavirus in a petri dish. But the drug has not yet been given to people or animals infected with coronavirus. The FDA stresses that further testing is needed to determine if it is safe or effective to prevent or treat COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The FDA is concerned that people may try to self-medicate based on this study. Since the drug is only available to humans by prescription, there is concern people may go so far as to use the version of the drug intended for animals.

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"People should never take animal drugs, as the FDA has only evaluated their safety and effectiveness in the particular animal species for which they are labeled," the FDA said in an April 10 statement. "These animal drugs can cause serious harm in people. People should not take any form of ivermectin unless it has been prescribed to them by a licensed health care provider and is obtained through a legitimate source."

This is not the first time the FDA has put out a warning for people to not self-medicate with chemicals meant for animals. Last month, an Arizona man died and his wife became critically ill after taking a treatment for their fish that contained chloroquine phosphate. The wife told NBC News they decided to take it after hearing President Donald Trump talk about the potential benefits of chloroquine during one of his briefings. Studies are now underway to test the viability of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.

There are no drugs or other therapies approved by the FDA to prevent or treat COVID-19.

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