OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR/KXAN) — After a recent resurgence in several states, health officials are warning residents to be aware of a dangerous and unauthorized “treatment” for COVID often taken with dangerous consequences. The FDA is warning people against taking cow and horse deworming medication to treat COVID.
Nevertheless, the medicine, Ivermectin, is flying off store shelves in Oklahoma. It’s used to treat and prevent parasites in animals, and the tablets are not FDA-approved for treatment of COVID in humans and isn’t even an anti-viral drug—meaning it has no impact on the coronavirus. Because the large-concentration tablets are intended for large animals, they can be treacherous for humans.
Dr. Mary Clarke of the Oklahoma State Medical Association said that Oklahomans are using the drug to treat or prevent the coronavirus, but its use could lead to long-term health problems. “Once the damage is done in these situations, you’re not going back,” she said. “The FDA has said, ‘Please, please, this is not something that is recommended,’ and the manufacturer of the actual medicine has said, ‘We have no evidence of effectiveness.'”
So, in addition to not being authorized for treatment, there’s no evidence ivermectin treats COVID-19.
Clarke said the drug, which has not been studied on humans, primarily treats or prevents parasites in animals. However, Clarke said there are two versions of ivermectin. “There’s a human-grade, but it’s for parasite infections,” said Clarke. “Twenty years ago was the last time that I’ve used ivermectin on a human.”
The FDA said Ivermectin products for animals differ from those for people. Tablets are FDA-approved to treat people with two conditions caused by parasitic worms: intestinal strongyloidiasis and onchocerciasis. Also, some topical forms of the medication are approved to treat external parasites such as head lice and for skin conditions such as rosacea.
However, the FDA said, the drug is not approved to treat or prevent COVID in people. “Animal drugs are often highly concentrated because they are used for large animals like horses and cows, which can weigh a lot more than we do—a ton or more,” the FDA said. “Such high doses can be highly toxic in humans.”
Use of ivermectin should only be taken if prescribed by a doctor for an FDA-approved use. Regardless of the usage and prescription, the FDA warns ivermectin overdose is still possible. Possible interaction with other medications is also a possibility.
Twelve tractor supply stores around Oklahoma all said ivermectin was sold out. “Ivermectin is gone within hours of shipment,” one store said.
“I mean, we even have ‘Please don’t eat’ signs up,” another said.
“We haven’t received a shipment in two weeks,” said a supply store. “I think it’s because people are consuming it.”
With the pandemic still a real threat, the FDA said, it’s “perhaps not surprising that some consumers are looking at unconventional treatments.” But the agency emphasized that unauthorized drugs are not recommended: “Using any treatment for COVID-19 that’s not approved or authorized by the FDA, unless part of a clinical trial, can cause serious harm.”
Doctors say not to buy medicine from a feed store for human consumption. “There’s too much potential for error if a person goes and takes a veterinary product intended for large animals,” said Scott Schaeffer, with the Oklahoma Poison Control Center.
Clarke said the best way to prevent COVID is to get vaccinated.
The FDA and several state officials say they’ve seen an uptick in calamitous use of the drug. Since May, there have been 10 poison calls related to Ivermectin. On Friday, the Mississippi Department of Health was forced to send out a warning to residents about the dangers of the drug after several poisonings.
The Mississippi Poison Control Center said at least 70% of recent ivermectin-related calls are tied to people taking livestock or animal formulations they bought a livestock supply stores or through online markets. Rashes, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and vomiting are two of the many side effects you could experience. Some can be very serious.
“It could be dizziness, cardiac rhythm problems, blood pressure issues, primarily low blood pressure. Especially mix with some other medications,” said Clarke. “There is no dose. There’s no dose for this because there’s no evidence that this is going to work.”
In Mississippi, 85% of Poison Control Center callers reported mild symptoms, but one person needed evaluation because of how much they’d taken. More severe dangers of ivermectin ingestion include neurologic disorders, seizures, coma, and death.
Despite these warnings, false claims of the drug’s effectiveness have proliferated on Facebook, with one such post showing a box of the drug clearly labeled “for oral use in horses only.”
Mississippi continues to see a sharp increase in coronavirus cases.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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