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Spike in ivermectin use locally has health care providers worried

The Western News | September 7, 2021 7:00 AM

Local health care providers and public health officials are urging residents to avoid using a controversial anti-parasite medication to treat COVID-19, citing a lack of supporting research.

The Libby Clinic said in a Sept. 2 social media post that multiple local patients hospitalized with severe cases of COVID-19 over the past two weeks have been taking ivermectin. The clinic recommended that residents turn to other courses of treatment, such as monoclonal antibodies, pointing to a study that has shown ivermectin to be ineffective in treating the virus.

An analysis of 14 randomized trials with 1678 participants found no reliable evidence to support the use of ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19. The study, conducted by researchers from Germany, was published in late July.

The research aligns with an Aug. 26 statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that clinical trials and observational studies have yielded insufficient evidence for the National Institutes of Health to recommend the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19.

The Lincoln County Health Department reposted the notice from the Libby Clinic and shared an urgent message from the state health alert network regarding the recent increase in the use of ivermectin.

The FDA has not approved ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19 in humans. The agency has approved the drug in tablet form for treating parasitic worms and in cream form for treating head lice and some skin conditions. The FDA does not consider ivermectin to be an antiviral drug.

Large doses of ivermectin can be dangerous as the drug can interact with other medications including blood thinners. Users can overdose on ivermectin and experience symptoms including vomiting, seizures, comas and even death.

Taking ivermectin products intended for animals can pose additional risks since these drugs are often marketed for use in horses and cows, which require much higher concentrations of the medication than humans. The FDA notes that these doses can be highly toxic for humans and that ivermectin for animals may include inactive ingredients that haven’t been evaluated for use in humans.

“You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all stop it,” the FDA tweeted in late August.

Throughout the country, the use — and misuse — of ivermectin has increased dramatically in recent months.

CDC officials reported that prescriptions for ivermectin have risen from an average of 3,600 per week in the year preceding the pandemic to more than 88,000 in the week ending on Aug. 13. Poison control centers across the country saw a five-fold increase in the number of calls related to ivermectin in July over their pre-pandemic call volume. The increase corresponded with an uptick in emergency department and hospital visits, according to the CDC.