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People using a drug intended for animals to prevent or treat COVID-19 not only endanger their own health, but also create an increasing need for the common medicine that veterinarians need to care for sick horses, farm animals and some small animals.
Ivermectin is a drug that was developed for both humans and animals to treat various parasitic diseases, but is available in different formulations for animals and humans. However, misinformation on social media, podcasts, and talk radio related to the drug’s use to treat COVID has resulted in some people looking for the animal product where it can be purchased in stores without a doctor’s prescription.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned of possible toxic effects if a human ingests a veterinary formulation. Veterinary ivermectin can make people seriously ill as it is usually formulated for a 1,000 pound or larger animal.
The drug has been studied as a potential treatment for COVID-19, but studies haven’t found enough data to back up the claims.
National attention to the issue peaked last month when the Food and Drug Administration tweeted a warning against using the cattle version, saying, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, all of you. Stop it.”
In Nevada, the Department of Agriculture warned consumers not to use the veterinary medicine in the event of potential poisoning and shortages in veterinary medicine.
“Veterinarians report difficulty obtaining veterinary formulations of ivermectin,” said Amy Mitchell, veterinarian for the Nevada Department of Agriculture, in a September 16 statement. “This creates barriers for veterinarians in providing the necessary veterinary care.”
The agency encouraged veterinarians to report any deficiencies in the medicine to the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. A spokesperson said the center had not received enough formal reports to “reliably assess” the “regional availability” of the drug, and that local retailers and veterinarians may be more familiar with what is on offer.
At least one veterinary clinic recently noticed the delivery bottleneck. Heaven Can Wait Animal Society, a nonprofit that provides affordable pet care, uses ivermectin to treat ear mites in a community program for cats. Executive Director Francesca Fulciniti said her team had struggled to find more of the drug over the past few weeks and recently an order was canceled.
“You are limiting our ability to get it just because there is a limited amount available,” said Fulciniti. “So let’s see if we can get our hands on any in the coming week.”
She doesn’t know if the organization is using alternative medicine in the meantime.
“We have never encountered this problem before,” she added.
A local feed and supplies store also caught national attention in August for a sign asking prospective Ivermectin customers to show a picture of them with their horse to prove that the medicine was intended for their animal. V&V Tack and Feed on Rancho Drive has since waned customer curiosity, manager Shelly Smith said. She suspects that the product behind a display case may put some people off, or they may know other places to buy it.
Smith is still able to get the drug, just not from her usual brand, she said.
She warns customers not to use the animal product when they ask for it. Most are respectful, said Smith.
“I just had one angry customer who called me for days in a row,” she said. “He was angry. He said we kill people by not letting them take and everyone he knows eats it and it tastes like apple and he comes here and protests. He did not do it. I told him I would be here by 7, come down. I’ll make you famous with TikTok. “
McKenna Ross is a corps member of Report for America, a national utility that places journalists in local newsrooms. Contact her at email@example.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.