Ivermectin Probably Doesn't Cause Infertility
Though utterly useless in the treatment of COVID-19, the claim circulating on social media that ivermectin causes infertility is faulty.
The latest claim about ivermectin — which, once again, is a useless drug in the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 and should not be taken — is that it makes men infertile, popularized as both a tactic of ridicule and to scare people into taking more sensible measures like getting vaccinated and wearing masks. However, the evidence of this is weak, and, as discussed before, spreading bad information about ivermectin, fuels conspiracy theories around the benefits of its use, since it makes those who oppose it ill-informed or even part of a deliberate cover-up.
Ivermectin does seem to have an impact on the healthy production of sperm cells. This claim is largely based on a study published in 2011 examining the effects on sperm quantity and motility after an eleven month treatment of ivermectin. Though an ineffective COVID-19 treatment regardless of duration, those taking it for such a reason almost all seem to be doing so for at most a couple of weeks. This study also did not establish that the men were made infertile, but rather that 85% had low sperm counts immediately in the wake of ivermectin treatment.
A study in rats from 2008 only found a “slight” disturbance in fertility when ivermectin was administered for eight weeks — still much longer than the usual COVID-19 ivermectin user — though the effects were magnified when combined with verapamil, a blood pressure drug. However, once again, this did not establish that it made the rats infertile, simply that it made their sperm quality poor, and these effects were small with ivermectin alone.
This reflects a broad trend for the popular media to make broad, bold claims based on much more modest findings in studies. To say ivermectin makes men infertile is, with current evidence, a stretch, especially since the one study we have looked at a treatment almost a year long. However, it clearly impacts the production of sperm at least in the short term.
There are shreds of truth there, but they’re obfuscated by sensationalism. Rather than overhyping the positive effects of compounds in red wine or chocolate, it instead sensationalizes the hate against people consuming the bad thing. It is not that the resveratrol from red grape skins is without antioxidant benefit or the ivermectin is without risk, of course. But claiming it renders most men infertile is like claiming that red wine will cure cancer. Both are extreme magnifications of what the research actually suggests.
The irony, of course, is this is what the ivermectin users themselves are doing, though it is often coupled with conspiracy theorist-minded thinking that views it as a treatment “they” do not want you to know about. However, what we are witnessing is on both sides of a debate, people are making absurd conclusions from the barest of scientific evidence. The conclusions may not be as dangerous or irresponsible, but it demonstrates how, especially when sensationalism comes from a trusted source, people are more susceptible to this disinformation than they might think.
While obviously ivermectin is a bad way to treat COVID-19, it probably will not make you infertile, and it is dangerous to fall into the same patterns of thinking and misrepresentation of scientific evidence that led people to trust ivermectin in the first place. Ivermectin is also an important drug in the treatment of several parasites in humans, and it is good to avoid spreading distrust of those who may need to use it for bona fide medical reasons.