The United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement on Saturday warning citizens to stop taking a horse deworming drug as defence against COVID-19, following reports of people being admitted to hospital after taking it.
The FDA even posted the message to social media in an effort to get the word out: “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”
The medication, known as ivermectin, is often used to treat or prevent parasites in animals, according to the organization, which has “received multiple reports of patients who have required medical support and been hospitalized after self-medicating with ivermectin intended for horses.”
It is not in any way an antiviral drug, though in certain cases humans can use it; it’s approved by the FDA to treat people with intestinal strongyloidiasis and onchocerciasis, two conditions caused by parasitic worms.
In some cases of head lice and rosacea, topical versions of ivermectin are approved as well — but that’s the extent of it. It has no ability to protect humans from COVID-19 or any other sort of viral invader.
Humans who misuse or overdose on ivermectin can experience side effects like diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, allergic reactions, problems with balance, seizures, coma and even death, according to the FDA.
“There’s a lot of misinformation around, and you may have heard that it’s okay to take large doses of ivermectin. That is wrong,” reads the statement from the organization. “Even the levels of ivermectin for approved uses can interact with other medications, like blood-thinners.”
Last week in Mississippi, the state health department said at least one person had been hospitalized after taking ivermectin.
“The Mississippi Poison Control Center has received an increasing number of calls from individuals with potential ivermectin exposure taken to treat or prevent COVID-19 infection,” read an alert sent out by the Mississippi State Department. “At least 70% of the recent calls have been related to ingestion of livestock or animal formulations of ivermectin purchased at livestock supply centers. 85% of the callers had mild symptoms, but one individual was instructed to seek further evaluation due to the amount of ivermectin reportedly ingested.”
This isn’t the first time a drug has been touted as a miracle COVID-19 medicine. In mid-2020, former U.S. president Donald Trump claimed that malaria drug hydroxychloroquine was effective in preventing COVID-19.
He asserted without evidence that a study of veterans raising alarm about the drug was “false” and an “enemy statement,” even as his own government warned that the drug should be administered for COVID-19 only in a hospital or research setting.
No large, rigourous studies have found the drug safe or effective for preventing or treating COVID-19.
Trump said he decided to take hydroxychloroquine after two White House staffers tested positive for the disease, but he already had spent months promoting the drug as a potential cure or preventive despite the cautionary advice of many of his administration’s top medical professionals.
“This is an individual decision to make,” Trump told reporters during a visit to Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Republicans. He later claimed, “It’s gotten a bad reputation only because I’m promoting it.”
The vast majority of new infections in the U.S. are among unvaccinated people as the country faces the spread of the Delta variant.
— With files from The Associated Press