Look, I’m not here to debate the merits of taking ivermectin, a “horse dewormer,” for COVID-19. I’ll leave that to actual medical professionals. (Though, obviously, do not take it for COVID.) What I am here to do is relay a few things we know about ivermectin’s effects on the human body. Namely, that it can seriously screw up your sperm.
Ivermectin has most frequently been used in the treatment of onchocerciasis and strongyloidiasis in humans, both of which are types of roundworm infections that typically occur in rural communities and tropical climates outside of the U.S. The former is the result of being bit by blackflies that carry the parasite, and it can lead to disfigurement and blindness. The latter is typically contracted through contact with soil containing roundworm larvae, and it generally causes digestive symptoms like diarrhea. A single dose of ivermectin, typically around 68 to 91 micrograms per pound of bodyweight, is commonly used to treat both.
Because of these uses, we have some background on ivermectin’s side effects. A 2011 study from pharmacology researchers at Madonna University, Ambrose Alli University and Abia State University in Nigeria studied the impact of ivermectin on sperm function among 37 men between the ages of 28 and 57 who had been treated for onchocerciasis. All had been given 68 micrograms per pound of bodyweight, and were studied both before and 11 months after the medication was administered. Not only did each of these men experience significantly reduced sperm counts and sperm motility, their sperm became seriously deformed as well, with traits like two tails, two heads and “extraordinarily large heads.”
“These changes, no doubt, are results of the effects of the drug on the sperm function of the patients,” the discussion section of the study states.
Similar phenomena have been recorded in animals, too. A 2017 study discovered that ivermectin hinders sperm development in adult mice, and a 2001 study found that it decreases sperm motility in rams and should therefore not be used during breeding seasons.
Thankfully, these fertility concerns have reached some of those looking to take ivermectin for COVID, with the topic being discussed as early as eight months ago on the r/ivermectin subreddit. Still, it doesn’t seem to be a serious concern for ivermectin devotees, some of whom recommend taking selenium and vitamin E to combat its potential side effects, as has been proven somewhat successfully in rats.
As for ivermectin’s long-term effects on fertility, far more research needs to be done. Even anecdotally on r/ivermectin, there’s little information on its impact on sexual health, which is worrisome considering that it’s such a common treatment for roundworms and that some people may now be taking it off-label in doses designed for livestock. It’s also being increasingly used as a COVID intervention, especially abroad. In India, leaders in Goa and Uttarakhand announced that it will be broadly distributed as a preventative measure, and in the U.S., the drug exploded in popularity after podcast host Joe Rogan stated he had COVID and that he’d been using it to treat himself. It’s unclear whether he was taking a dose designed for humans, but allegedly, calls to poison control centers regarding over-exposure to ivermectin have ballooned in recent weeks.
When actually prescribed by a doctor, taking ivermectin and experiencing decreased fertility is probably preferable to blindness and death, but still, it’s not great. At the very least, it’s another incentive to not take a parasite treatment for a viral infection.