Tech

Amazon pushes deworming drug falsely touted as Covid treatment

Key Points
  • Amazon is directing users to a deworming drug falsely touted as a cure for Covid-19.
  • User reviews on some listings appear to uphold false claims that ivermectin is a treatment for the coronavirus, with one review including a link to a Covid misinformation site.
  • The CDC and FDA have warned against using ivermectin as a treatment for Covid-19.

In this article

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Amazon algorithms direct users to horse dewormer medicine for Covid

Amazon is directing users to an anti-parasitic drug falsely claimed to be a treatment for Covid-19.

The drug, called ivermectin, is typically used to treat or prevent parasites in animals. In recent weeks, it has become the latest false cure for Covid-19, prompting warnings from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When CNBC searched for the term "iv" on Amazon, the website's auto-complete function suggested a range of ivermectin products, including "ivermectin pills," "ivermectin paste" and "ivermectin injectable." The auto-complete search results are a sign that enough people have been searching for "ivermectin" that Amazon's search algorithm was automatically trained to put it at the top of suggested results.

When CNBC searched for the term "iv" on Amazon, the website's auto-complete function suggested a range of ivermectin products, including "ivermectin pills," "ivermectin paste" and "ivermectin injectable."

User reviews on some of the products appeared to make reference to false claims that ivermectin is a treatment for Covid-19. One review read, "Yes I used it for that. Two doses, completely gone. This stuff absolutely works. The rumors are true."

On a separate ivermectin listing, one reviewer provided dosing directions and included a link to a website promoting Covid misinformation, including that ivermectin is "safe and effective" for treating Covid-19.

Amazon spokesperson Craig Andrews told CNBC in a statement: "Amazon's autocomplete responses are driven by customer activity. We are blocking certain autocomplete responses to address these concerns."

A few hours after this story was published, Amazon added a notice to searches for "ivermectin for humans," which notes that the FDA advises against the use of ivermectin to treat or prevent Covid-19. It instructs users to visit the FDA website for more information.

The same notice also appears on searches for "ivermectin covid."

Ivermectin can be used by humans in small doses to treat parasites such as head lice, but it is most commonly used by veterinarians to deworm large animals. While it has been referred to as a "wonder drug" for treating some parasitic illnesses, it has not been shown to be effective against Covid-19 or other viruses.

Nevertheless, it has gotten a lot of attention, including in some Facebook groups and Reddit communities, NBC News reported.

Prescriptions written for ivermectin are up 24-fold compared with before the pandemic, according to the CDC. Normally, about 3,600 prescriptions are written for ivermectin per week. "Since early July 2021, outpatient ivermectin dispensing has again begun to rapidly increase, reaching more than 88,000 prescriptions in the week ending August 13, 2021," the CDC said.

Earlier this month, the FDA put out an advisory that warned Americans not to ingest ivermectin.

Amazon has previously faced scrutiny over the sale of products with misleading coronavirus claims on its marketplace. Last February, amid a rise in products with suspect coronavirus claims, the company added a notice to searches for "coronavirus," "Covid-19," "n95 mask" and other terms that directed users to the CDC for more information about prevention and treatment of the disease.

Amazon has struggled to remove books and other products containing coronavirus misinformation. A recent study by University of Washington researchers found that more than 10% of Amazon search results show products that promote health misinformation. Researchers examined books, e-books, audiobooks, apparel and dietary supplements.