Feed stores across the country can’t keep ivermectin, a medication used to treat parasites, on the shelves these days. That’s because people are taking it in an attempt to treat or prevent infection from COVID-19.
In response, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning on Twitter reminding Americans that ivermectin dosed for large livestock is not a treatment for COVID-19, and is unsafe for human consumption, saying, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”
Here’s the low-down on why animal ivermectin sales are soaring, even as experts warn it’s unsafe and not approved for treatment or prevention of COVID-19.
What is ivermectin?
First things first: ivermectin can be used safely for humans when prescribed by a physician for the right disease. That said, it’s not FDA-approved to treat COVID-19 (or any viral illness).
“No public health organization has recommended ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19,” said Shalika Katugaha, MD, system director of infectious diseases for Baptist Health. “It is used for certain tropical diseases and other parasites like roundworm, hookworm, intestinal parasites, scabies and lice.”
In animals, ivermectin can be used as treatment and prevention for external and internal parasites, like heartworms. It can be given as a chewable tablet, injection, or an oral paste (usually flavored like apples). These forms of ivermectin are strong enough for livestock animals, which can weigh anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 pounds or more, making them much too strong for humans to use safely.
What happens if I take it?
The treatment as prescribed by a doctor can cause manageable side effects, including fever, joint pain, or skin rashes. Consuming the kinds dosed for livestock can have disastrous, even deadly, results since the dosage is so much higher.
According to the FDA, side effects of too much ivermectin include skin blistering, incontinence, trouble breathing, fainting and more. Experts warn taking too much ivermectin can lead to an overdose that causes seizures, coma and even death.
“When using ivermectin for parasitic diseases, we have a correct dose we give. There’s no proper dosage for COVID-19 because it’s not a treatment for that virus. We wouldn’t give ivermectin to someone admitted to the hospital. So, taking these medications at potentially unsafe dosages can cause a lot of harm,” Dr. Katugaha said.
The FDA website also notes that many common inactive ingredients in animal medications have not been studied in people, so it’s unknown how those components affect the human body.
Why are people taking ivermectin for COVID?
A lab study found that ivermectin could stop the replication of the virus that causes COVID-19 when it was added to petri dishes of cells. The drug was also being given in countries hit hard by the virus, like in Latin America and South Africa, where vaccine distribution was limited and doctors were trying inexpensive medications to see what may help.
Since then, certain groups have latched on to the idea that ivermectin can effectively treat COVID-19. However, studies were too small or included too many variables, like patients taking multiple medications, to be conclusive. Other studies suggest the dosage of ivermectin required to stop the virus in a human body would need to be up to 100 times the currently approved amount for use in people. The side effects of a dose that large are unknown and potentially dangerous.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and World Health Organization (WHO) are not recommending ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment until more research is completed.
Can I treat COVID-19 at home?
The short answer is no. There are no over-the-counter or at-home medications approved to treat COVID-19. The best way to prevent illness is by getting vaccinated. If you think you have COVID, call your doctor immediately.
“Don’t try to self-manage COVID-19 without first consulting a medical professional. Call your doctor and see if you can get a virtual appointment,” said Dr. Katugaha. “Please, if you’re out there trying to get ivermectin from somewhere, stop. It will not help prevent or treat COVID-19. Rather, please go out and get the vaccine, which has been approved by the FDA.”
Are you experiencing symptoms of COVID-19? You don’t have to manage them on your own. Baptist HealthPlace on Demand offers 24/7 online doctor visits with local physicians so you can start feeling better now. At Baptist Health, we want to help keep our community informed about COVID-19. For more information about COVID-19 vaccines, visit baptistjax.com/covid19vaccine. Click here to find a vaccination location near you.
Reference: U.S. Food and Drug Administration