Doctors in Canada and the United States are warning against the use of animal deworming drug Ivermectin for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.
The US Food and Drug Administration issued a statement Saturday following reports of people being hospitalized 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 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.
Demand for the livestock dewormer has increased around Calgary.
Lance Olson, manager at Lone Star Tack & Feed Inc. started getting calls about Ivermectin last November, but demand peaked this summer.
“We were probably getting four to five phone calls a week,” Lance Olson said.
“This is not something people should be buying and putting in their orange juice or coffee. It’s not safe,” he adds.
Inquiries became so persistent, Olson had to pull the medication from shelves. Now the store only sells to those with a Premises Identification Program (PID) number.
“When people phone in and they don’t have animals and they won’t tell us why they’re buying it, it’s a pretty good indicator they aren’t using it for the right reasons.”
An Alberta Health Services spokesperson says an AHS Scientific Advisory Group conducted a review to explore using Ivermectin in treatment and prevention of COVID-19, however it was not approved.
“We have no evidence whatsoever that this works for either preventing or treating COVID,” said University of Calgary infectious disease researcher Dr. Craig Jenne, adding the misinformation comes from early pandemic studies.
“Early studies in laboratories show Ivermectin is quite effective in slowing viral growth in petri dishes. It’s important to point out a few issues in those initial studies,” Dr. Jenne explained.
“One, this is not in the body, this is in a petri dish. Two, these lab experiments focus on cells that are not human cells. And then finally, the doses of drugs they’re giving in the petri dish are equivalent to giving 50 times more than what is safe for humans to take.”
The experiments were also done with human-grade Ivermectin, not the livestock version people are buying and ingesting.
Jenne says there are about 15 Ivermectin studies completed, with another 30 to 35 still underway.
For now, he says, the most effective way to prevent COVID-19 is to get fully vaccinated.
— With files from Chris Jancelewicz, Global News