Calls to poison control centers regarding exposure to ivermectin have increased five-fold in recent months.
Thousands of Americans may be taking potentially dangerous doses of an anti-parasitic drug because of misinformation that it will prevent or treat COVID-19, according to a new warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). On Thursday (Aug. 26), the CDC alerted doctors that there’s been a surge in prescriptions for the drug, called ivermectin, since the pandemic began, along with a five-fold increase in calls to poison control regarding toxic effects from the drug. People are even taking forms of the drug intended for use in animals, which can be bought over the counter but are not safe for human use, and can cause serious side effects, according to the CDC. In humans, ivermectin is approved to treat certain parasitic diseases; a topical version of the drug is sometimes used to treat head lice. In animals, ivermectin can treat or prevent parasitic diseases such as heartworm, according to the Food and Drug Administration. But recently, misinformation about ivermectin has led some people to take the drug for COVID-19, even though it’s not approved for this use, Live Science previously reported. The U.S. The National Institutes of Health has said that there’s currently insufficient evidence to recommend the drug as a COVID-19 treatment. A March study of ivermectin use in mild COVID-19 cases found it had no benefit. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. retail pharmacies issued an average of 3,600 human prescriptions per week for ivermectin, according to the CDC. But in recent months, prescriptions have soared, reaching more than 88,000 prescriptions per week in mid-August, 2021, according to the CDC. What’s more, calls to poison control centers across the U.S. regarding ivermectin exposure increased three-fold in January 2021, and five-fold in July 2021, compared with pre-pandemic levels, the agency said. Veterinary forms of the drug meant for big animals, such as horses and cows, can be very dangerous for people, in part because they come in large or concentrated doses that can result in an overdose. Animal products can also contain inactive ingredients that haven’t been studied in humans, the CDC said.