Kentucky Poison Control Sees Spike in People Taking Livestock Drug Ivermectin for COVID

The state of Kentucky has seen a spike in its residents misusing ivermectin, a controversial livestock drug, in order to treat COVID-19, according to calls made to Poison Control.

Ivermectin is mostly used as a treatment for parasites in animals and has been flagged by federal health bodies as inappropriate for human consumption in treating COVID-19.

In 2020, Kentucky Poison Control said they received just one call for ivermectin misuse, but there have already been 13 misuse calls this year. About half these calls were made in the month of August alone, with the center advising some callers to either call 911 or go to hospital.

"Most of those have been because people are trying to treat COVID," center director Ashley Webb told the Louisville Courier Journal.

Of those calls, 75 percent were from people who bought ivermectin from a feed store or farm supply store and treated themselves with the drug.

"These products aren't formulated for humans," Webb said. "Ivermectin acts differently in animals than in humans and so the dose is not going to be equivalent. It would be almost impossible to measure out an appropriate dose for a human ... out of that concentration."

The ivermectin product sold in farm supply stores is "formulated for livestock like horses and cows, which weigh considerably more than humans," she added.

Webb urged people to get the vaccines instead, saying: "There are safe and highly effective vaccines, and that's the route that people should go to prevent COVID-19."

Dr. Hugh Shoff, associate chief medical officer for University of Louisville Health, also told the community not to use ivermectin during a news conference on Monday.

"Ivermectin does not treat COVID," Shoff said. "It does not prevent COVID. It does not treat symptoms of COVID. The idea that this could be used to treat COVID is just not there ... Right now there's no evidence that it can help people. What it can do is harm people."

There have been 7,764 deaths and 577,051 current total positive cases of COVID-19 in the state, according to figures released by the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

Ivermectin is approved by the FDA for use in humans to treat certain parasitic worm infections. But federal regulators say there is no evidence it works on COVID-19 and warn that it can be dangerous in large doses.

"People who take inappropriately high doses of ivermectin above FDA-recommended dosing may experience toxic effects," the Center for Disease Control (CDC) said. The effects range from nausea and vomiting to seizures, coma and death.

The FDA said it has received "multiple reports of patients who have required medical support and been hospitalized after self-medicating with ivermectin intended for horses."

Nevertheless, prescriptions for ivermectin have significantly increased over the past few weeks, the CDC said.

"Since early July 2021, outpatient ivermectin dispensing has again begun to rapidly increase, reaching more than 88,000 prescriptions in the week ending August 13, 2021. This represents a 24-fold increase from the pre-pandemic baseline," the agency reported.

Calls to poison control centers about ivermectin exposures have spiked and increased three-fold amid the country's latest wave of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

Officials in Florida, Mississippi and Nevada have reported an uptick in calls about the de-worming drug.

File photo: A health worker shows a bottle of Ivermectin. Luis ROBAYO / AFP/Getty Images