KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Poison control calls are up in Kansas City and it’s because people are ingesting a drug meant for horses.
You may have heard about ivermectin, a drug primarily used for de-worming animals. However, now people are taking it as a possibly dangerous home remedy for COVID-19.
The Food and Drug Administration is telling people not to take it, and there is no validity to claims across the internet by self-proclaimed health experts.
The horse medication is easy to find if it’s in stock. The box says it’s not for use in humans, however, people keep taking it.
Stephen Thornton, is the medical director of the Poison Control Center for the University of Kansas Health System. He said for those that take it, it’s working more as a placebo.
“We have over the last, I guess, about six months or so started to see an uptick in cases where people are taking it for COVID,” Thornton said.
He said it’s not clear why people are using a horse de-wormer, but when it comes to COVID-19, there is no evidence it’s actually helping.
“The dose makes the poison. And even a very, very safe medication like ivermectin, one can turn into a problem if you take just huge amounts of it,” Thornton said.
Thornton said ivermectin affects humans bodies much differently than it affects animals.
“It’s very targeted towards certain receptors and things that are found in like arthropods, or insects and, and worms and parasites. And so that’s why it is a great drug because it doesn’t really affect the human body. In addition, it also doesn’t get into the brain, then we have a barrier that keeps it from getting into the brain,” Thornton said.
However, with animals it does get into their brain and can cause serious effects if not used properly. Thornton says while ivermectin is a generally safe drug in large doses, it can cause serious issues.
“It gets into their brain and causes all kinds of problems. Humans. We don’t see that except we think when you start getting these huge doses, and it overwhelms your body’s ability to keep the drug out of your brain and then you can start having the same kind of effects that you see in dogs or cats,” Thornton said.
The majority of the side effects he’s seeing in the metro are people experiencing gastro-intestinal problems, but if taken in large doses, some in the U.S. have experienced seizures.
The drug is approved for some uses in humans, but not to treat COVID-19. Generally, its used for treating scabies and head lice which are parasites, not a virus.
“Some of the side-effects that may be associated with ivermectin include skin rash, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, facial or limb swelling, neurologic adverse events (dizziness, seizures, confusion), sudden drop in blood pressure, severe skin rash potentially requiring hospitalization and liver injury (hepatitis). Laboratory test abnormalities include decrease in white cell count and elevated liver tests,” the FDA explained on their website.
FOX4 wanted to see how easy it would be to purchase livestock-grade ivermectin. We were able to buy a tube of an ivermectin blend at a veterinary supply store for around $16. The tubes of plain ivermectin were sold out, and through online searches we were able to find a number of stores in the metro sold out of ivermectin where they would normally be easy to purchase for horse owners.
The FDA advises horse owners who are unable to find ivermectin for their livestock to contact their veterinarian.
The FDA did approve ivermectin for use on livestock, and in light of the recent rush of human consumption they released a statement:
“People should never take animal drugs, as the FDA has only evaluated their safety and effectiveness in the particular species for which they are labeled. Using these products in humans could cause serious harm.”The Food and Drug Administration on Ivermectin in human use
Merk, the company who produces ivermectin also released a statement saying there is no evidence the drug would be effective in humans:
“Company scientists continue to carefully examine the findings of all available and emerging studies of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19 for evidence of efficacy and safety. It is important to note that, to-date, our analysis has identified:
- No scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect against COVID-19 from pre-clinical studies;
- No meaningful evidence for clinical activity or clinical efficacy in patients with COVID-19 disease, and;
- A concerning lack of safety data in the majority of studies.
“We do not believe that the data available support the safety and efficacy of ivermectin beyond the doses and populations indicated in the regulatory agency-approved prescribing information.”
There is some research on the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19, but Thornton said the research is in the beginning stages and hasn’t been tested on animals or even actual humans yet. He said it is an unproven hypothesis at this point in time.