TOPEKA — More people are calling a Kansas poison control hotline after self-medicating for COVID-19 with a drug intended to fight parasitic infections in animals.
Ivermectin can cause severe health problems in humans, and medical experts warn against using the drug to treat or prevent COVID-19. Interest in the drug is being driven by disinformation on social media platforms and claims from lawmakers, including a Kansas state senator.
Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention for University of Kansas Health System, said the organization’s poison control hotline receives one to three calls per month regarding ivermectin. That number is increasing, he said.
Under certain medical conditions, ivermectin can be beneficial for humans, but self-dosing is a higher risk than the COVID-19 vaccine, Hawkinson said.
“There are much more and worse side effects with ivermectin. It’s amazing to me people still would like to do this,” Hawkinson said. “If you take ivermectin in the wrong way or you take too much you can certainly get toxicity from it, including central nervous toxicity.”
Throughout the pandemic, alternative treatments to the COVID-19 virus — including the use of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin — have become popular despite universal warnings from medical experts. The recent surge in those seeking out the antiparasitic has Kansas and national medical experts uneasy.
Both the Infectious Disease Society of America and the World Health Organization recommend against ivermectin use to treat or prevent COVID-19. The Food and Drug Administration also recommended against this use, and said it received multiple reports of patients who have required medical attention and hospitalization after self-medicating with ivermectin.
“You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it,” the agency said in a tweet.
The FDA noted use of the drug in doses intended for animals could prove fatal — and even smaller doses could interact dangerously with other medications if not reviewed by a doctor. Overdosing on ivermectin can cause nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, seizures, coma and even death.
Ivermectin is sold at several chain pharmacies, including CVS, Walgreens and Walmart. The product also is readily available at retailers such as Tractor Supply Co. for as little as $6.
Earlier this year, Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson, said it was a mistake not to prescribe ivermectin to decrease hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.
“As a physician who’s battled this thing from the start, I never felt like our leadership … has learned lessons from this virus and adapted its strategies,” Steffen said during a joint House and Senate hearing on COVID-19 attended by KDHE secretary Lee Norman. “We’ve been starved for early outpatient treatments. We’ve been starved, and they’ve been there and we’ve denied their use through the CDC, through the NIH, through our administration.”
In June, Steffen referenced the drug in a post on his Facebook page. Alongside a Fox News video clip, Steffen claimed several federal government agencies, Anthony Fauci, big tech and doctors were blocking access to alternative treatments, resulting in many unnecessary deaths.
“This conspiracy killed tens to hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Manslaughter or premeditated murder? The Courts will decide,” Steffen wrote.
Matt Lara, a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Health Environment, repeated warnings made by medical experts against the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19.
“Ivermectin is not an antiviral drug,” Lara said. “It has been approved in humans for use in some parasitic worms, head lice and certain skin conditions. Taking large doses of this drug is dangerous and can cause serious harm.”
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