Poison control hotlines in Alabama and Mississippi are receiving an influx of calls from people trying to treat COVID-19 by using anti-parasite medicine purchased at livestock stores.
According to the CDC, there was a five-fold increase in reactions from that drug ivermectin in the month of July nationwide.
Federal regulators have approved ivermectin to treat people and animals for some parasitic worms and for head lice and skin conditions, but the drug is not approved for COVID-19. The human and animal formulations are not the same, and doctors say it is dangerous for people to self-dose, particularly with the large quantities given to animals.
“I think those individuals who have been championing ivermectin for COVID treatment really do so in the absence of a well-done clinical trial which supports its use,” said Dr. Chirag Patel, assistant chief medical officer with UF Health Jacksonville. “The very few studies those individuals may reference really include a small number of patients. They’re poor and have unvalidated study design, and the doses are much higher than any of the approved indications for ivermectin, which ultimately are going to increase your risk for toxicity and side effects. Because of those reasons, the FDA, the NIH, the World Health Organization and academic institutions across the world, not just the US, are not recommending ivermectin for COVID management.”
Florida Poison Control posted on Facebook about seeing a spike in adverse cases related to the drug. So far, they’ve treated 27 patients in the month of August. They say some of these cases that they’ve seen involved serious side effects like seizures.
Some of the symptoms associated with ivermectin toxicity include rash, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, neurologic disorders, and potentially severe hepatitis requiring hospitalization.
At least 70% of recent calls to the Mississippi Poison Control Center have been related to ingestion of livestock or animal formulations of ivermectin purchased at livestock supply centers, Mississippi Department of Health officials said.
No hospitalizations have been reported. Most callers — 85% — have had mild symptoms, according to the Department of Health. One individual was advised to see a physician because of the high dosage they reportedly took.
In Alabama, a poison control hotline is fielding increasing calls about possible poisoning with ivermectin.
The Alabama Poison Information Center at Children’s of Alabama has fielded 24 ivermectin exposure cases so far this year, of which 15 were related to COVID-19 prevention and treatment. It says there have been five other calls seeking information about ivermectin.
By comparison, the center had six total calls involving the de-wormer in 2019 and 12 in 2020.