The Real Reason People Are Taking A Livestock Drug To Treat COVID-19

The Mississippi State Department of Health released an alert to all healthcare workers in the state on August 20, 2021, reporting an increase in calls to the Mississippi Poison Control Center due to people taking medication meant for livestock. About 70% of recent calls to the poison control center have been about people who have ingested the drug ivermectin in a formulation specifically made for animals. Approximately 85% of people calling about taking this drug reported mild symptoms, but one person was told to seek medical attention because of the amount they took. 

The statement, released by state epidemiologist Paul Byers, notes that ivermectin has approved uses for both people and livestock. Still, no one should be taking it unless it's prescribed by a doctor. Even more importantly, medications that have been formulated for livestock contain higher concentrations of the drug and can be toxic to humans. The FDA also tweeted out a consumer update about this issue, saying, "You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, ya'll. Stop it." But why is anybody taking this drug in the first place?

What is Ivermectin?

According to The Washington Post, ivermectin is typically used as a deworming medicine for livestock like horses and cows. It can be used to treat parasitic worms in humans as well, and is also sometimes prescribed topically to treat head lice or rosacea (per the FDA). It is not approved to either prevent or treat COVID-19. However, The Washington Post reports that anecdotal reports and false claims on social media prompted a surge of people taking ivermectin, believing it to be a COVID cure. Many of these people have been acquiring formulations meant for animals from livestock supply centers (per Mississippi State Department of Health). 

The Mississippi State Department of Health is asking health care workers to watch out for specific symptoms in patients who are ill because of ivermectin ingestion — whether it's prescribed or a livestock formulation — and report it to the Mississippi Poison Control Center. Symptoms of ivermectin poisoning include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, rash, neurological disorder, and "potentially severe hepatitis requiring hospitalization." In addition to the danger of possible ivermectin poisoning, the FDA points out that these drugs may also contain inactive ingredients that could pose a risk to humans. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that the best way to protect against COVID-19 is by getting one of the vaccines. Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is the first COVID vaccine to receive full FDA approval as of August 23, 2021.