Just say ‘neigh’ to ivermectin for COVID-19: Experts warn against using horse dewormer to treat coronavirus

  • Assistant Manager Bill Ovitt holds up ivermectin at the Greenfield Farmers Cooperative Exchange, which now keeps the horse deworming drug behind the counter. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 9/12/2021 4:38:33 PM
Modified: 9/12/2021 4:38:35 PM

The Greenfield Farmers Cooperative Exchange’s showroom reportedly spans 12,000 square feet — with additional warehouses, a greenhouse and outdoor nursery — and carries at least 22,000 items for anyone’s farm, home or garden. And the store’s equine section is rife with supplies. But you will no longer find ivermectin on the shelf.

That’s because it is now in a cabinet behind the front counter. It seems Western Massachusetts is not immune to the national phenomenon of taking the horse deworming drug in an attempt to prevent or treat COVID-19. Co-op manager Jeff Budine said several people have visited the store in the past few weeks to buy ivermectin ever since the unsubstantiated rumors began circulating online.

“We know our customers pretty well. But last week, personally, I waited on three different people (asking about ivermectin),” he said. “You can tell a horse person from a non-horse person, sometimes.”

Budine said staff members will not sell ivermectin for human use.

“If you read the label, it … says, ‘For horses only,’” he said.

The National Poison Data System states there were 459 reported cases of ivermectin overdose in the United States in August, according to BBC.

And the Mississippi Poison Control Center has reportedly received a spike in calls about potential ivermectin exposure, with at least 70% of the recent calls “related to ingestion of livestock or animal formulations of ivermectin purchased at livestock supply centers.” Eighty-five percent of callers had mild symptoms, though one person was told to get further evaluated due to the amount of ivermectin reportedly ingested.

Misconceptions of the medication’s effectiveness against the novel coronavirus have been spread by mostly right-wing pundits and online trolls.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not authorized or approved ivermectin for use in preventing or treating COVID-19 in humans or animals.

In 2015, scientists William C. Campbell and Satoshi Omura won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their decades-old discovery and application of ivermectin to treat parasitic infections. But COVID-19 is spread by a virus — not parasites — and the FDA warns ivermectin overdoses can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, allergic reactions, dizziness, problems with balance, seizures, coma and even death.

Dr. Armando Paez, an infectious disease specialist with Baystate Health, explained ivermectin is an effective anti-parasitic agent being researched as a possible medication “that can basically neutralize” the COVID-19 virus. He said ivermectin has been used to treat the virus in many nations that lack the resources the United States has. At least two papers relying on hospital records of COVID-19 patients have been retracted because the company that purportedly analyzed the raw data won’t allow their validity to be independently validated.

Side effects of ivermectin can exacerbate those of other medications, Paez said, noting that the drug should only be taken in a clinical trial setting. He said large doses can be dangerous and small doses are likely ineffective against COVID-19. Paez also mentioned overdoses can add to the strain hospitals are already experiencing due to a fourth surge in coronavirus infections.

Ashlee Girard, an employee at Amherst Farmers Supply, said the store has not sold more ivermectin than usual, though one horse owner jokingly mentioned she would take it for herself.

“We only sell it to customers that we know,” she said. “We know who we sell to. We have a pretty well-knit group around here.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a recent study examining trends in ivermectin dispensing from outpatient retail pharmacies in the United States during the pandemic showed an increase of 2,344 percent for the period between early July and mid-August, versus a year ago.

The Tractor Supply Co. store in Greenfield has posted “ivermectin product advisories” in its equine section, warning the drug is an active ingredient in some of the products carried and has not been approved by the FDA to treat COVID-19 in humans.

“These products are only suitable for animals and are clearly labeled as such,” the advisory reads.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com.

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