Ivermectin COVID-19 use potentially dangerous

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Posted August 12, 2021 | By Matthew Cretul, matthew@ocalagazette.com

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As COVID-19 cases spike, interest in non-traditional but potentially dangerous treatments is also surging.

One medication, ivermectin, has gained traction as a potential COVID-19 preventative and treatment. But health care professionals and the Food and Drug Administration warn the medication is not approved for COVID-19 use and comes in different preparations that can be dangerous and even deadly if not used as directed.

Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic drug used for the treatment of certain conditions in humans as well as animals. In addition to being used to treat internal parasites, some topical forms are FDA-approved to treat head lice and skin conditions such as rosacea. In animals, it’s used to treat and prevent heartworms and some external parasites.

But the drug can interact with other medications, like blood thinners. You can also overdose on ivermectin, which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hypotension (low blood pressure), allergic reactions (itching and hives), dizziness, ataxia (problems with balance), seizures, coma and even death, according to the FDA.

For one Ocala resident, however, the warnings did not stop him from trying the medication recently after he tested positive for COVID-19.

“It was a friend that is a nurse practitioner that I was talking to that said ivermectin had more data than hydroxychloroquine, so that’s what I went with,” said Chris, who did not want to use his full name for this story.

Hydroxychloroquine is another anti-parasite drug that gained widespread attention during the initial wave of COVID-19 in 2020. The FDA also issued a warning about using that drug for COVID-19 symptoms.

Chris isn’t worried that it’s not FDA-approved to treat COVID or about the side effects.

“Especially when you see the side effects, and you aren’t taking large doses, it shouldn’t be a problem. The adverse effects that they claim came from ivermectin was at a very high dosage. I’ll take diarrhea and headaches over blood clots, myocarditis and paralysis any day” he said.

Chris isn’t alone in seeking out ivermectin, talk of ivermectin as a treatment seems to be everywhere. Recently, when Marion County Commissioner Kathy Bryant announced on Facebook her husband had contracted COVID-19 and asked for people’s opinion on different treatment options, more than a dozen of the over 100 responses were from people who gave anecdotal examples of taking ivermectin. Several claimed they took ivermectin bought at local farm and feed stores intended for animal use. Some even ordered it from overseas suppliers.

The formulations and dosages between ivermectin for animal use can be vastly different, particularly those intended for equine usage, than human preparations.


Heard it from a friend

When it comes to matters dealing with health, those word-of-mouth approvals can carry more weight than government warnings, according to Kim Walsh-Childers a professor at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications whose research focuses primarily on health and science communication and how health information is conveyed in news media.

“My own research shows this, people tend to trust family members and interpersonal sources even more than they trust local media… they kind of make the assumption that, well, no one that I know would deliberately give me information that’s going to hurt me,” said Walsh-Childers.

She believes that while those sharing health and scientific information may be well-meaning, in many cases they might not possess the needed level of medical or scientific knowledge to properly vet the information.

“There’s a reason we go to the doctor to set a broken bone and we don’t go to the plumber down the street. The plumber might be a really smart guy, but that doesn’t mean he knows how to deal with your personal ‘bodily plumbing’, it’s just not the same thing,” she said.

Consider the source

It’s not just interpersonal sources that may help spread incomplete or inaccurate information.

Walsh-Childers also feels reporters covering health-related stories could do more to ensure the proper context is given.

“Many reporters for local media [outlets] haven’t been trained to read scientific research….so they’re not going to be able to, even if they take the time to look up the research, they’re not going to be adept at sifting the wheat from the chaff,” she said.

According to a Pew Research Study, nearly half of Americans said they had encountered made-up or false information regarding treatments, origins, or risks of the virus since the pandemic began. And as quite a bit of information, health-related or otherwise, is shared online, Walsh-Childers cautioned it is important to know where the information comes from.

“There is a whole disinformation/ misinformation industry… because let’s be honest there are entities out there who benefit from the United States being in chaos. There are entities out there, other states or actors…that they’re perfectly happy for the United States to have our COVID pandemic go on for the next 15 years. And it’s pretty well documented that that’s where this disinformation is coming from initially,” she said.

Even data from seemingly reliable sources can end up being inaccurate or misleading. According to MedPage Today, an online medical news service, a recent Egyptian-based study on ivermectin that included 400 patients was pulled from pre-publication in a scientific journal because the data used in the study was found to be plagiarized and fraudulent. The pulled study had been used in other investigations showing the effectiveness of ivermectin, which in turn cast doubt on the subsequent research.

Who do you trust?

Amanda S. Bradshaw, an assistant professor with the University of Mississippi’s School of Journalism & New Media, whose research area is also in health communication, echoes the element of trust in known sources, especially interpersonal ones.

“Really successful messengers of health information are people’s doctors, who they tend to lump into that interpersonal source category rather than maybe a large organization like the CDC or the FDA, especially if someone has a distrust of larger organizations,” Bradshaw said.

And with research from Pew showing only 24% of Americans have trust in the federal government (the lowest point in history since they began recording in 1960, compared with a high of 77% in 1964), it might explain why Americans are so hesitant to heed warnings and directions from the governmental entities dealing with health and health-related matters.

For Chris, who got a prescription from a healthcare provider friend, the drug was shipped to him from a compounding pharmacy. He takes 12 mg every other day.

“I’ve been on it for like four, five days now… it’s hard to tell what’s made a difference but I was not feeling good before I started taking it and I feel like things have gotten a little better every day since” he said.

When asked if he would recommend ivermectin to others, Chris said “definitely…[it] possibly could have saved me from a lot more issues. With the side effects being very minimal, I would definitely give it a shot, not much to lose.”

Chris, who was not vaccinated, is still wary of the vaccine.

“No, I can’t believe they are injecting people with that stuff still,” he said.

UF’s Walsh-Childers can’t overlook the paradox.

“People are saying I don’t want to get the vaccine because it hasn’t been studied enough. And yet, they’re willing to take a drug that hasn’t really been tested to treat COVID-19 hardly at all [when compared to the clinical testing the vaccines went through],” she said.

The grain of salt

Compounding the issue, however, is that while ivermectin hasn’t been cleared for use to treat COVID-19, there is some research into its potential use as a treatment. The drug is currently included in clinical trials to test its effectiveness.

A clinical trial in Paraguay started in November 2020 and completed in May of this year found ivermectin to be ineffective in treating COVID-19, the results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

According to clinicaltrials.gov, a Malaysian-based randomized controlled clinical trial on the effectiveness of ivermectin for COVID-19 began in early June of this year. The study is expected to be completed in January 2022. Additionally, Oxford University has begun adding ivermectin to its clinical trial program as well.

Progressing through the testing process is important, and Walsh-Childers believes it is imperative to let the methods in place do their thing, even if it takes time.

“When you’re dealing with a novel virus….there’s going to be a steep learning curve, and things are going to change….but you have to follow the process [of testing and clinical trials],” she said.

As for Chris, he’s going to continue his regimen of ivermectin.

“I believe I take it until it’s gone is what [my friend the healthcare provider who prescribed it to me] said. I don’t know how many more pills I have though. Once I’m recovered, I’ll have natural immunity, the best immunity, and so no real reason to take it, until I need to. Hopefully, I won’t, but at least it’s an option if I need to,” he said.

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