Hospitals see spike in patients using livestock drug to treat, prevent COVID-19

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(ABC4) – Outpatient pharmacies in the U.S. have seen a 24-fold increase in the dispensing of a drug commonly used to treat livestock for worms. With the increase in sales, poison control departments nationwide have reported an uptick in calls for individuals exposed to the drug. This is prompting a safety reminder from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued an alert saying there “seems to be a growing interest in a drug called ivermectin to treat humans with COVID-19.” Ivermectin is often used to treat or prevent parasites in animals. While ivermectin can be found in tablets that have been approved “at very specific doses for parasitic worms” and some topical formulations for head lice and skin conditions, the FDA says ivermectin is not an anti-viral, a drug to treat viruses.

According to the CDC, pharmacies in the U.S. dispensed an average of 3,600 prescriptions per week before the COVID-19 pandemic. During the first week of January, pharmacies saw a jump to 39,000 prescriptions in one week for ivermectin. In the week of August 9, pharmacies dispensed more than 88,000 prescriptions for ivermectin – a 24-fold increase from the pre-pandemic average.

Additionally, poison control centers across the U.S. have seen a five-fold increase in calls about human exposures to ivermectin. An increased frequency of adverse effects and emergency department/hospital visits have also been reported. In some of these cases, the CDC says people have ingested ivermectin-containing products purchased without a prescription, including veterinary products intended for use in large animals like horses and cattle that can result in overdoses in humans.

One person who drank an injectable ivermectin formulation intended for use in cattle to try and prevent COVID-19 infection was hospitalized for nine days, according to the CDC. They presented to a hospital with confusion, drowsiness, visual hallucinations, tachypnea, and tremors. Another adult presented at the hospital after taking ivermectin tablets purchased on the Internet, taking five tablets for five days to treat COVID-19. This person was disoriented and struggled to answer questions and follow commands.

Taking ivermectin can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, allergic reactions, dizziness, problems with balance, seizures, coma, and even death. Additionally, the CDC says ivermectin has not been proven as a way to prevent or treat COVID-19.

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