Dr. Gregory Yu, an emergency physician in San Antonio, has been receiving the same daily requests from his patients, some of whom have been vaccinated against Covid-19 and others who have not: they want ivermectin, a drug typically used to treat parasitic worms that have repeatedly failed in clinical trials to help people infected with the corona virus.
Dr. Yu stated that he has declined the ivermectin requests, but he is aware that some of his colleagues have not. According to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control, prescriptions for ivermectin have increased dramatically in recent weeks, rising to more than 88,000 per week in mid-August from a pre-pandemic baseline normal of 3,600 per week.
Some pharmacies are even reporting medicine shortages. Travis Walthall, a pharmacist in Kuna, Idaho, a community of approximately 20,000 people, said he filled more than 20 ivermectin prescriptions this summer alone, up from two or three in a typical year. He has been unable to purchase the medicine from his suppliers for the previous week since they are all out.
Mr. Walthall was quite aback by how many people were willing to take an unapproved medicine for Covid. “I’m like, oh my my, this is horrible,” he exclaimed.
Ivermectin is more widely used in animals than it is in people for head lice, scabies, and other parasites.
Physicians are concerned that an increasing number of people are obtaining the medicine from livestock supply outlets, where it can be found in highly concentrated paste form.
According to C.D.C., who cited data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers, calls to poison control centers about ivermectin exposures had increased considerably, more than fivefold above their baseline in July.
The Mississippi Department of Health said this month that 70% of recent complaints to the state poison control line were from persons who consumed ivermectin from livestock supply stores.
Dr. Shawn Varney, a toxicologist and medical director for the South Texas Poison Center, stated that his center received 191 complaints about ivermectin exposure in 2019; so far this year, the center has received 260 calls and is on track to receive 390 by the end of the year. The great majority of recent inquiries came from consumers who attempted to treat or prevent Covid-19 by using a veterinary product.
“Everyone wants to find a cure for Covid because it is such a dreadful illness,” Dr. Varney explained. “I want people to stop using ivermectin and obtain the vaccine because it is the best protection we have right now. Everything else is a risk on top of a risk.”
According to Dr. Varney, persons who called the poison control center after taking ivermectin occasionally complained of nausea, muscle discomfort, and diarrhoea. He acknowledged that there have been ivermectin overdose deaths in the past, but he was unaware of any directly linked to Covid-19.
The greatest risk, he added, comes from people taking the cattle product and consuming far more than is appropriate for humans — sometimes 10 to 15 times the amount that a capsule permitted for humans may contain.
“People are going to animal feed stores and buying a more concentrated formulation since it’s for 1,000-pound animals,” Dr. Varney explained.
Ivermectin was first used in veterinary medicine in the late 1970s, and its success in controlling some parasite infections in humans earned it the 2015 Nobel Prize in medicine.
Although it has not been demonstrated to be useful in treating Covid, individuals are now demanding it, exchanging tips in Facebook groups and on Reddit. Some doctors have compared the phenomena to the rise in interest in hydroxychloroquine last year, albeit ivermectin is being studied in more clinical studies.
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration issued a statement. “You are not a horse,” the agency tweeted, along with a warning that ivermectin is not FDA-approved for treating or preventing Covid-19, and that high doses can be fatal.
A recent analysis of 14 ivermectin studies involving over 1,600 people indicated that none demonstrated the drug’s capacity to prevent Covid, improve patient conditions, or reduce death.
The data safety monitoring board discontinued the Together Trial, one of the largest trials testing ivermectin for Covid-19 therapy, on Aug. 6 because the drug was demonstrated to be no better than a placebo at preventing hospitalization or lengthy stay in the emergency room. Dr. Edward Mills, a McMaster University professor who supervised the study that involved over 1,300 patients, said the team would have stopped it sooner if it hadn’t been for the level of public interest in ivermectin.
“The data safety person stated, ‘This is now pointless, and you’re providing no benefit to the patients in the trial,’” Dr. Mills explained.
Another research of the medicine discovered that, unless given in large quantities, ivermectin is relatively safe. Dr. Eduardo López-Medina, a researcher at Colombia’s Center for Pediatric Infectious Diseases, supervised a randomized control trial for the study last spring and discovered that ivermectin had no statistically meaningful effect on lowering the duration of Covid symptoms. However, he discovered that there was no statistically significant increase in adverse events for individuals receiving ivermectin, even though they were receiving a relatively high dose of 300 micrograms per kilogram.
“It appears to be a safe medication,” Dr. López-Medina said, “but that is not enough to openly prescribe it.”
Researchers and doctors are particularly concerned that patients are seeking ivermectin as a kind of possibly prophylaxis or treatment rather than receiving one of the extremely efficient Covid vaccinations. The FDA officially authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccination for persons 16 and older last week, and Moderna’s vaccine is expected to be approved in the following weeks.
“The only functional technique we have for controlling Covid-19 is vaccination,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, a physician in New York and the founding head of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness.