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Utah health officials: Use of parasite drug leading to increase in hospitalizations

By Jamie Lampros - | Sep 21, 2021

AP

This Jan. 29, 2021, photo shows the packaging and a container of veterinary ivermectin in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Denis Farrell, Associated Press)

The Utah Department of Health on Tuesday issued a warning to people taking the parasite treatment drug ivermectin for COVID-19 after a resident suffered serious health effects and was taken to the hospital.

“I strongly encourage clinical providers to consider the harm they may cause if they provide ivermectin to patients with COVID-19 infection,” said Dr. Leisha Nelson, a state epidemiologist for the UDOH. “While there is no data showing it helps with COVID-19, there is very strong data showing it can do harm. I also encourage pharmacists to question any prescriptions for high-dose ivermectin that is inappropriate for their clients.”

Ivermectin is not a COVID-19 drug and there is no data to suggest the drug has any impact on the viral infection. The continued promotion of the drug has led to an increase in people buying veterinary ivermectin and being hospitalized due to the side effects of ingesting the drug.

Sherrie Pace, the outreach coordinator for the Utah Poison Control Center, said calls from the public taking the drug are on the uptick. She said the center has seen a 4.5 times higher rate of ivermectin exposures in 2021 compared to 2020.

“The calls related to people actually using ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19 are right around 56%,” Pace said. “So the increase we’re seeing is significant. The idea of ivermectin caught hold nationally, probably on social media where other types of misinformation is being spread.”

Veterinary ivermectin is a drug used to treat parasites in livestock, Pace said.

“It’s a veterinary drug for a reason. It’s for veterinary purposes,” Pace said. “There’s a real danger in using it because of the higher dosage that would be a dose for livestock such as a horse. Imagine the size of a horse compared to a human and you can see how that can happen.”

Because of the increase in human consumption, Pace said people who own livestock are having a hard time acquiring the drug.

“They are seeing a shortage in this medicine and they are having a hard time getting it for their animals,” she said.

Dean Taylor, a state veterinarian for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, said he encourages people to consult with a qualified health care provider before undergoing any course of COVID-19 treatment and said the UDAF does not endorse the misuse of ivermectin.

“The recent uptick in reports of ivermectin misuse are concerning,” Taylor said.

Side effects of ivermectin can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, low blood pressure and allergic reaction, Pace said. Other, serious side effects can lead to seizures, coma and even death if taken in large enough doses.

If you have any concerns, call the Utah Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

“We can get you the help you need,” Pace said. “It’s a confidential service and we have medical professionals available around the clock. Our main point is that we are asking people not to use veterinary ivermectin products for human consumption.”

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