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US 'You are not a horse.' FDA warns against use of animal dewormer as COVID treatment, prevention

03:30  06 september  2021
03:30  06 september  2021 Source:   usatoday.com

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Health officials are warning against using a drug called ivermectin for unapproved use as a medicine to prevent or treat COVID-19.

The drug, which has been approved only as an anti-parasitic treatment for humans and animals such as livestock and horses, has been the subject of a spike in calls to the Mississippi Poison Control Center.

The drugs produced for humans are different than the drug made for livestock which is "highly concentrated and is toxic to people, and can cause serious harm," said the Mississippi State Department of Health in an alert Monday. At least two people have been hospitalized with potential ivermectin toxicity after ingesting the drug produced for livestock, the state's poison control center said Monday.

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Interest in the drug is rising as the delta variant has spurred higher COVID transmission rates and increased concerned among those vaccinated about becoming infected.

Multiple reports of patients being treated or hospitalized after "self-medicating with ivermectin intended for horses," led the Food and Drug Administration Friday to issue a warning. "You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y'all. Stop it," the agency tweeted.

These new warnings come as the FDA on Monday announced full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

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Ivermectin: What we know

Ivermectin in a pill form is used to treat parasitic worms in humans. A topical form of the drug is used to treat head lice and skin conditions such as rosacea, the FDA says.

Other forms of ivermectin are used to treat parasites in horses and cows and as a  heartworm medicine for dogs. Ivermectin for animals is different than the drug meant for humans. For instance, livestock ivermectin is "highly concentrated and is toxic to people, and can cause serious harm," said the Mississippi State Department of Health in an alert Monday.

An ivermectin overdose can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, an allergic reaction such as itching or hives, seizures, dizziness, problems with balance, coma and potentially death, says the FDA, which has been warning consumers about the harms for months,

What is the drug's COVID connection?

Ivermectin is not an antiviral drug, but it has been among the drugs suggested during the pandemic as one to help treat COVID-19. Remember how hydroxychloroquine was touted by some as a drug, approved for other uses (malaria), with potential benefits for COVID-19 patients?

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In the case of ivermectin, while some limited studies suggested the drug had some benefit, other more strident studies found little or no benefit.

Here in the U.S., the FDA says it has not reviewed data to support use of the drug to prevent COVID-19. But some initial research is underway, the agency said.

There is a U.K. study led by the University of Oxford currently testing ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19.

More study is needed, but currently, there is "insufficient evidence to recommend either for or against the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19," the National Institutes of Health says.

Fact check: Ivermectin is not a proven treatment for COVID-19

Some farm supply stores are labeling ivermectin products as unsafe for humans, while others are pulling the product from the shelves completely to prevent customers from using it.

Durvet, which produces ivermectin oral paste for horses and external medicine for cattle and sheep, has a COVID-19 alert on its website – as do some resellers – warning that the products are not safe or approved for human use or for treating COVID-19 and "could cause severe personal injury or death."

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At least 70% of recent calls to the Mississippi Poison Control Center involve ivermectin purchased at livestock supply centers being ingested, said the state's epidemiologist, Dr. Paul Byers, in Friday's alert.

In Arizona, the Banner Poison & Drug Information Center in Phoenix and the Arizona Poison & Drug Information Center in Tucson have also seen an increase in calls about ivermectin exposure and human use, Phoenix area ABC station Channel 15 reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the drug is getting increased distribution and cases of poisoning from the drug rose five-fold in July, ABC News reported Monday, citing internal CDC data the news outlet reviewed.

"There’s a lot of misinformation around, and you may have heard that it’s okay to take large doses of ivermectin," the FDA's alert said. "That is wrong."

Contributing: Daniel Funke

Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'You are not a horse.' FDA warns against use of animal dewormer as COVID treatment, prevention

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