Some Iowans are saying “neigh” to the FDA’s blunt warning not to take a deworming drug for horses and other livestock to treat COVID-19.
Madeline Handsaker, an employee at Tractor and Supply Co. in Ankeny, told the Des Moines Register Thursday she’s noticed an increase in sales of the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin.
The agricultural supply store sells three types of the drug intended for use on animals, including an injectable version for horses, sheep and hogs, as well as a paste for horses.
“The paste has been the big one that skyrocketed,” Handsaker told the newspaper. “I used to rarely sell that stuff. Then I had people ordering like 30 boxes at a time.”
The company’s corporate offices in Tennessee sent the store outside Des Moines signage to post near the drug indicating that the products are “for animal use only,” but that hasn’t deterred some shoppers, Handsaker said.
“When people order it or they come in and ask for it, they tend to have a skittishness like they know that they’re not using it for animals,” she continued. “So, most of us are like, ‘Well, what kind of animal are you using it for?’ because most people that have livestock that come in know what they’re getting when they come in here.”
Most customers leave without buying the drug once they realize it’s intended for a “2,000-pound animal” rather than a 180-pound person, Handsaker said.
But that wasn’t the case at Orscheln Farm & Home in Perry, where one woman bought ivermectin despite staffers informing her about its danger for use by humans to treat or prevent COVID-19.
“She did go ahead and purchase it and basically said she didn’t care what the FDA had to say and it was perfectly fine for human consumption,” store manager Rachel Swaffer told the Des Moines Register.
A handful of poisoning cases involving ivermectin to treat COVID-19 have been reported to the Iowa Poison Control Center, although officials insisted some issues involving the drug are relayed annually.
“I wouldn’t say an uptick, but we’ve certainly had some cases reported,” Iowa Poison Control Center assistant director Grant Houselog told the newspaper. “It’s important people realize ivermectin has a purpose medically, but using these types of things for other unintended purposes is not recommended.”
The Mississippi Poison Control Center has reported an “increasing number of calls” from people who used ivermectin intended for animals and were sickened. Warnings have also been issued by state health officials in Arkansas.
The Food and Drug Administration, meanwhile, took a candid approach with its warning to the public after multiple reports of people being hospitalized after using ivermectin intended for horses, cows and other large livestock.
“You are not a horse,” FDA officials tweeted. “You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”
The drug is approved in tablet form for humans in “very specific doses” for some parasitic worms, as well as topical versions for head lice and skin conditions like rosacea. But the drug is not an anti-viral treatment and misuse can cause vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, allergic reactions, seizures, coma and death, FDA officials said.
“The FDA has not reviewed data to support use of ivermectin in COVID-19 patients or to prevent COVID-19; however, some initial research is underway,” the agency’s warning continued. “There’s a lot of misinformation around, and you may have heard that it’s OK to take large doses of ivermectin. That is wrong.”