As misinformation spreads about the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin — which has not been approved as a viable treatment for COVID-19 — calls to the Palmetto Poison Center about the medication have increased, the center’s director said.
As of Monday, seven South Carolina residents have called the Palmetto Poison Center — a part of the University of South Carolina’s College of Pharmacy that provides free poison and toxicology advice — after taking ivermectin, director Jill Michaels told The State. That’s an increase from one call about the drug in each of the previous two months.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of ivermectin for preventing or treating COVID-19, and medical experts around the country say the vaccine is far more effective at treating the virus. Ivermectin is a drug that is approved to treat parasites in humans and livestock.
Regardless, the drug has gained popularity as an unproven COVID-19 preventative and treatment, especially among groups who are wary of the coronavirus vaccine.
“Ivermectin is not to be used for COVID,” Michaels said. “We don’t recommend people using it without any prescription by their doctor.”
One particular danger that has come taking ivermectin is that people have resorted to taking veterinary ivermectin, which is sold at doses for thousand-pound livestock. Michaels said people who are taking veterinary ivermectin are being unsafe.
“They’re guessing the dose or deciding the whole syringe is what they should take,” Michaels said.
That can result in vomiting, diarrhea, tremors and dizziness, Michaels said.
Assistant State Epidemiologist Dr. Jane Kelly said the high doses in veterinary ivermectin can be “highly toxic in humans.”
“Animal drugs are often highly concentrated because they are used for large animals like horses and cows, which weigh significantly more than people,” said Kelly, who works for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Kelly added that other ingredients in veterinary ivermectin can prove dangerous.
“Many inactive ingredients found in animal products aren’t evaluated for use in people,” Kelly said. “In some cases, we don’t know how those inactive ingredients will affect how ivermectin is absorbed in the human body.”
Michaels said the only time patients should take ivermectin to treat COVID-19 is if they’re part of a study.
The Medical University of South Carolina is currently participating in a study that is, in part, examining the efficacy of using human-approved ivermectin to treat early symptoms of COVID-19, MUSC’s Dr. Leslie Lenert said. The study is being led by the Duke Clinical Research Institute in North Carolina.
As part of the ivermectin arm of the study, participants are sent by mail either a placebo or a dose of ivermectin, which is carefully adjusted to each participant’s weight so the dosage is safe, Lenert said. Participants then report how they feel and would participate in calls with researchers. In total, participants getting the drug will take ivermectin for 90 days.
Overall, the study is trying to attract 15,000 participants, with 5,000 volunteering for the ivermectin wing alone, making it the largest study of ivermectin’s efficacy when it comes to COVID-19 in the U.S., Lenert said.
“We’re excited to be working on this at MUSC,” Lenert said.
DHEC maintains that the safest and most effective way to protect against COVID-19 is the vaccine.
South Carolinians can find a location to get vaccinated at scdhec.gov/vaxfacts.