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State and federal agencies have repeatedly warned that people should not take livestock-approved ivermectin to prevent or treat COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that even though the drug is not approved in any form for the treatment of COVID-19, prescriptions for formulations for human use also increased dramatically. The World Health Organization also advises against giving ivermectin to patients with COVID-19, except during a clinical trial.
Food and Drug Administration officials have been warning since at least March that humans should not take ivermectin formulated for non-human animals.
On Aug. 30, officials at the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine said in a letter to veterinarians and pet traders that people have become seriously ill from consuming highly concentrated ivermectin formulations such as infusions, injectables, pastes and potions for horses, cattle and sheep. Agency officials also received reports of local shortages of some ivermectin products approved for use in veterinary medicine, and urged veterinarians and zookeepers to report difficulties in obtaining these drugs Animal Drug Deficiencyfda [dot] hhs [dot] govern.
They also urged veterinarians and retailers to report false claims about ivermectin and COVID-19 by sending messages on FDA COVID-19 Fraudulent Productsfda [dot] hhs [dot] govern or call 888-InfoFDA (888-463-6332). And they created a warning sign that veterinarians and retailers could post or distribute.
Regional impact on poison centers
Poison control officials said in August they had received a significant number of calls from people who had side effects – mostly mild illnesses – from consuming veterinary ivermectin. Some poison control centers in the United States received five times as many calls for human exposure to ivermectin in July 2021 compared to a pre-pandemic baseline. Reports of ivermectin abuse coincided with increasing numbers of SARS-CoV-2 infections.
The Mississippi State Department of Public Health authorities warned on Aug. 20 that the Mississippi Poison Control Center had received an increase in calls from people taking ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19. Two days earlier, department officials said in a news conference that hospitals in the state needed help during the worst point of the pandemic and they expected the situation to get worse.
Officials at the Mississippi Poison Control Center, located at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said about 2% of the calls the center received August 1-25 were related to ivermectin. 70% of these calls were for livestock or other non-human animals.
Mark Winter, Dr. The centers received around 200 calls annually in 2019 and 2020, and a case in point in recent years has been accidental exposure while treating an animal.
Abuse can have dangerous consequences
Dr. Winter described a recent call to his poison control center from a woman whose boyfriend, a man in his thirties, had eaten the entire contents of a syringe of oral horse deworming ivermectin paste. The dose would have been appropriate for a 1,250 pound animal, said Dr. Winter.
“I could hear him screaming in the background, ‘It’s apple-flavored; it didn’t taste that bad, ‘”he said.
On August 21, Food and Drug Administration officials posted on Twitter in response to taking veterinary ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19.
Dr. Winter tried to convince the woman that the man needed medical attention, as this dose could cause neurological and cardiac symptoms in the man in addition to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Dr. Winter also learned that the man had COVID-19 and thought that a large dose would cure the disease.
In the warning, first published in March, FDA officials said it was understandable for some people to seek unconventional treatments after living such a long life with the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. But such unproven, unapproved, and unauthorized treatments can cause serious harm.
Even the human-approved ivermectin products can interact with blood thinners or other drugs, FDA officials warn. Veterinary drugs, on the other hand, are often highly concentrated – especially those used on large animals such as horses and cows – and high doses of these drugs could be highly toxic to humans.
An overdose of ivermectin can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hypotension, itching, hives, dizziness, loss of balance, seizures, and coma. Some overdoses can be fatal.
In addition, veterinary drugs often have inactive ingredients that have not been rated for use in human medicine, and FDA officials do not know how these ingredients affect drug absorption in the human body, the FDA information said.
In a question-and-answer session, agency officials confirmed that a scientific article published by Antiviral Research in June 2020 describes positive results from using ivermectin in a laboratory setting. However, they also said that such studies are common in the early stages of drug development and additional testing is needed to determine whether ivermectin might be useful in preventing or treating COVID-19.
The consumption of products for human consumption is increasing
Dr. Winter said some callers said they were taking ivermectin instead of getting vaccinated because ivermectin products were made longer. However, he said that medical professionals have no information about the long-term effects of ivermectin on the human body, and some of those callers are taking it daily at three to four times the human dose.
Some take it to cure COVID-19 and others to prevent it, he said. Although people often buy the veterinary products from farm stores, most of the calls come from the most populous counties in Texas.
On August 26, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation after finding that retail pharmacies in the United States were writing approximately 88,000 prescriptions for ivermectin for human use in the week ended August 13, a 24- fold increase from an average of 3,600 prescriptions a week before the pandemic. On the same day, the Houston Chronicle reported that Dr. Joseph Varon, chief medical officer of the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, told the newspaper that he has been administering ivermectin to his COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began.
And a day earlier, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas released a statement stating that a medical provider for a county jail in northwest Arkansas had prescribed ivermectin to treat inmates with COVID-19 despite warnings from the FDA. Holly Dickson, executive director of the Arkansas ACLU, said in the organization’s statement that no one, including those in detention, should be subjected to medical experiments.
The CDC data on ivermectin prescriptions comes from retail pharmacies, which together account for 92% of all prescription retail activity in human medicine.
In human medicine, ivermectin is FDA approved in oral formulations for the treatment of onchocerciasis and intestinal strongyloidiasis, and in topical formulations for head lice and rosacea. CDC officials advised that health professionals educate patients about the risks of using ivermectin without a prescription or ingesting formulations for topical or veterinary use.