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Health Highlights: March 5, 2021

By Robert Preidt HealthDay Reporter

Anti-Parasite Drug Won't Help Against Mild COVID-19: Study

A drug called ivermectin that's typically used to treat parasitic worms and has been viewed as a potential COVID-19 treatment does not shorten the recovery of patients with mild COVID-19, a new clinical trial shows.

The study included more than 400 people who recently developed mild COVID-19 symptoms and received five days of treatment with either ivermectin or a placebo. Symptoms lasted an average of 10 days among those who received the drug, and 12 days among those who received the placebo, a statistically insignificant difference, The New York Times reported.

The findings were published Thursday in the journal JAMA.

Last year, Australian researchers found that high doses of ivermectin suppressed SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in cell cultures. But its use is controversial, the Times reported.

While some scientists see its potential, others suspect that effectively inhibiting the coronavirus may require extremely high, potentially unsafe doses of the medication. Health officials have also worried that people desperate for coronavirus treatments might take versions of the drug that have been formulated for pets to prevent heartworm, the Times reported.

"There's been a lot of conflicting views on this, sometimes extreme conflicting views," Dr. Carlos Chaccour, a researcher at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health who was not involved in the new study, told the newspaper. "I think it has become another hydroxychloroquine."

"Ivermectin is currently being used widely," study leader Dr. Eduardo López-Medina, a doctor and researcher at the Center for Pediatric Infectious Diseases in Cali, Colombia, told the Times. "In many countries in the Americas and other parts of the world, it's part of the national guidelines of treating COVID."

While the new findings provide fresh data about the use of ivermectin in treating COVID-19, this was a small trial and didn't clarify the crucial question of whether the drug can prevent severe COVID-19 or death, Dr. Regina Rabinovich, a global health researcher at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study, told the Times.

Larger clinical trials currently underway could provide answers, Rabinovich said.

Shortage of Syringes for COVID-19 Shots

Countries worldwide are struggling to find enough syringes to administer COVID-19 vaccines.

Experts say between 8 billion and 10 billion syringes are needed for COVID-19 vaccinations alone. But in previous years, only 5% to 10% of the estimated 16 billion syringes used worldwide were earmarked for vaccination and immunization, health care supply chain expert Prashant Yadav, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, told The New York Times.

U.S. and European officials say they need more syringes for COVID-19 vaccinations, and other countries are also struggling with syringe shortages.

"A lot of countries were caught flat-footed," Ingrid Katz, associate director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told the Times.

Wealthier nations like the United States, Britain, France and Germany pumped billions into developing the vaccines, but little public investment has gone into expanding manufacturing for syringes, the Times reported.

So, the industry has ramped up to meet demand.

Becton, Dickinson and Co., which is the world's largest manufacturer of syringes and is based in New Jersey, said it was producing 2,000 each minute to meet orders of more than a billion, the Times reported.

The United States is the world's largest syringe maker by sales, according to Fitch Solutions, a research firm. The United States and China are neck and neck in exports, with combined annual shipments worth $1.7 billion.

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