A drug primarily used to treat animals is gaining traction with some who think they can use it as a treatment for COVID-19. Florida health experts say a new demand for ivermectin is causing a “scary trend”: a huge spike in illnesses among those who are using the medication wrong, with many finding the product at farm supply stores.
“We have noticed that there is a scarcity of it ,” said Brian Phillips, manager at Manning’s Feed and Seed in Milton. “We have had a few people come in asking if we have ivermectin for use for helping to either prevent or treat COVID. But the way we sell it, it’s not labeled for it, so we don’t recommend it. We typically will let them know that the forms that we have aren’t the FDA approved forms, but there are FDA approved forms that are for human consumption.”
parasite drug Ivermectin is a dewormer and is mainly used to treat or prevent parasites in animals. The FDA has approved its use in people for the treatment of specific parasitic diseases, but not COVID-19.
“We know it’s not safe and we know it does not work,” said Dr. Patrick Anastasio, an infectious disease specialist in Fort Walton Beach. “All of the studies that show any kind of benefit, are all very poor quality studies. The problem is the amount you would need in a person – in a patient – would be extremely high and would be toxic. It would not be a safe dose. So when you look at all the studies, there’s no evidence that ivermectin does anything positive for COVID.”
Dr. Patrick Anastasio says misinformation about the drug’s effectiveness on social media has swirled, creating a demand for the drug. He says some people are getting a prescription from a primary care doctor, and others are bypassing doctors and buying the medication at animal supply stores, pastes and liquid injections created for horses, cattle, and pigs.
“What I’m concerned about is the fact that we’re seeing people using veterinary products instead of obtaining the products correctly,” said Dr. Dawn Sollee, with Florida Poison Control’s information center. “We’ve seen a huge increase in the number of exposure calls that we’ve received regarding ivermectin statewide. Just in one month alone we pretty much received more calls than we did the previous year.”
Data provided to Channel 3 from Florida Poison Control shows statewide there were 13 reports of ivermectin exposure from January 1 – September 6 in 2020. In that same timeframe this year, there have already been 82 reports. More than half, or 47, of the cases this year came in August and the first week of September. In Northwest Florida, only one out of the six calls this year came before August.
“The majority of the calls are concerning the veterinary product of ivermectin,” said Dr. Sollee. “We do get some on the prescription products, in other words the tablets as well, but the majority of them are the paste or liquid solution which are typically obtained from a feed or a veterinary source. We’ve had the entire range of symptoms. The majority of them would be nausea and vomiting, but we have some symptoms as severe as seizures.”
Health departments nationwide are joining the CDC warning against the drug’s use for COVID-19. The FDA recently tweeting, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”Dr. Anastasio says he’s seen firsthand in Northwest Florida, how dangerous the misinformation about the drug can be.
“This weekend I saw 200 patients with COVID 19,” said Dr. Anastasio. “The scary thing is, the patients are using ivermectin in place of the vaccination. That’s very, very dangerous right now when we have the delta variant and we’re seeing a lot of people die of the delta variant. So here we have a medication that doesn’t work, it’s not safe, and they’re using that in place of things that we know are safe and work very well, for example the vaccination.”
If anyone feels like they’ve taken took much medication or they had a medication mistake, they can call the Florida poison center at 1-800-222-1222.