Public health warnings against using the antiparasitic ivermectin as a treatment for Covid, especially in the large doses intended for livestock, appear to have made little progress in curbing its popularity in parts of the United States.
Hospitals and poison control centers in the United States are treating a growing number of patients taking the drug.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nearly 90,000 prescriptions of ivermectin per week were being issued in mid-August, versus a prepandemic weekly average of 3,600. The shelves of the pet stores have been emptied of it.
The CDC reported that one person had an “altered mental state” after buying ivermectin online and taking five pills a day for five days. Another person drank a bovine ivermectin formula and was hospitalized for nine days with tremors and hallucinations.
The warnings are not enough. Ivermectin has been promoted by celebrities such as podcasting giant Joe Rogan, who listed it this week as one of the treatments he received after contracting the virus. Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist banned from Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, pulled out a box of ivermectin pills during one of his signature diatribes and threw two tablets live on the show that he still manages to stream.
Ivermectin was introduced as a veterinary drug in the late 1970s and was later approved for use in humans infected with parasites. Since 1987, the American maker, Merck & Co., has donated billions of doses that have saved hundreds of millions of people from river blindness in Africa and other parasitic diseases. Two scientists shared a Nobel Prize in 2015 for their work developing the drug. But in the United States, it has limited human uses, such as treating lice and rosacea, and until now it was mainly used to deworm horses, cows and pets.
on Twitter last month, the Food and Drug Administration warned that the drug had not been approved for use against Covid and that taking large doses could cause serious harm. “You’re not a horse,” the tweet read. ‘You’re not a cow. Seriously, everyone. Stop.”
In a statement on Wednesday, concerned health experts from the American Medical Association, the American Pharmacists Association and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists called for “an immediate cessation of the prescribing, dispensing and use of ivermectin for the prevention and treatment of Covid – 19 outside of a clinical trial.”
While it has not been shown to be effective in treating Covid, people are still clamoring for the drug, trading tips in Facebook groups and on Reddit. Some doctors have compared the phenomenon to last year’s high interest in hydroxychloroquine, although ivermectin has undergone more clinical trials.
One of the largest trials, called the Together Trial, was halted last month because the drug was shown to be no better than a placebo at preventing hospitalization for Covid. In July, a research paper indicating the drug reduced the number of Covid deaths was withdrawn after questions were raised about plagiarism and data manipulation.