Coronavirus: Another study backing ivermectin as treatment for COVID-19 pulled after serious error uncovered

Yet another study which concluded ivermectin can be used to treat COVID-19 has been withdrawn, after eagle-eyed readers noted it appeared to contain fake data. 

Ivermectin, an anti-parasitic commonly used to treat horses and other animals infected with worms, has been picked up by anti-vaxxers, right-wing media and conspiracy theorists as an alternative to vaccines and conventional treatments. 

There is no solid evidence yet it works, and health officials worldwide have said unsupervised off-label use could be dangerous, yet it's been touted by names as big as podcaster Joe Rogan, broadcaster Alex Jones and Fox News host Tucker Carlson. 

Two major studies ivermectin's backers have pointed to as proof it works against COVID-19 have already been retracted - the first, conducted in Egypt late last year was found to contain numerous inconsistencies, plagiarism and obvious forgery, while a second - a  meta-analysis of previous research published in July - was pulled after some of the data it was based on was discovered to be fraudulent

Now a third study - this one from Lebanon and published in May - has also been pulled.

It claimed to be a randomised controlled trial looking at 100 COVID-19 patients - half given ivermectin, the other half standard treatment. 

"Ivermectin appears to be efficacious in providing clinical benefits," it concluded, "resulting in fewer symptoms, lower viral load and reduced hospital admissions."

About a month ago, BBC News reported serious mistakes had been found in the study's data - including "blocks of details of 11 patients that had been copied and pasted repeatedly - suggesting many of the trial's apparent patients didn't really exist".

The authors have now admitted a huge mistake was made.

"After revising the raw data we realised that a file that was used to train a research assistant was sent by mistake for analysis," study leader Ali Samaha of Lebanese University in Beirut told Retraction Watch, a site which publicises studies which might have made headlines in the mainstream media when they were first published, but have since been withdrawn, often without fanfare.

The scientists say they believe the conclusions are still valid, but withdrew the paper "for transparency". 

Ivermectin is listed as an essential medicine by the World Health Organization, as it does have uses in humans - but reports of people buying stuff meant for horses to consume themselves led to stern warnings from health authorities here  and overseas

Even the drug's manufacturer Merck said people shouldn't be using it to treat COVID-19, as there's "no meaningful evidence for clinical activity or clinical efficacy in patients with COVID-19", nor is there any scientific basis for how it might work. 

Its adoption as a cause celebre by fringe groups has seen scientists who speak out against it targeted with death threats and hate online. 

While there have been a number of potential treatments for COVID-19 found that might actually work - such as SSRI antidepressant fluvoxamine, dexamethasone and remdesivir - they don't seem to attract the same kind of attention as unproven 'cures' like ivermectin and former US President Donald Trump's favourite, hydroxychloroquine. 

Retraction Watch said it was the 189th study into COVID-19 they've seen pulled since the start of the pandemic.