KEY POINTS

  • Ivermectin sales have increased in some feed stores
  • The drug is not approved to treat or prevent COVID-19 in humans
  • Animal drugs are often formulated differently because they are for large animals

Ivermectin has been touted on social media as a treatment for COVID-19, but the drug has not been approved to treat the disease in humans. In response to some people's usage of the livestock drug, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urged the public to "stop it."

It is not the first time the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin has been promoted by some people as a treatment for COVID-19, but the use of the drug seems to be seeing an uptick yet again. For instance, in feed stores in Phoenix, Arizona, the product has been seeing a rise in sales, reported 12News. 

The Mississippi State Department of Health also noted just last week that at least 70% of recent calls to the Mississippi Poison Control Center were related to the ingestion of livestock ivermectin formulation bought from livestock supply centers.

Even earlier this year, scientists already warned against the use of the drug, noting that the evidence is not enough to promote it as a treatment for the coronavirus.

In response to the social media posts embracing the use of ivermectin, the FDA sent a simple message.

"You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously y'all. Stop it," the agency said in a tweet.

In the consumer update from the agency, the FDA explained why people should not use ivermectin for COVID-19. The agency clarified that the drug has not been approved to treat COVID-19 in humans. For human use, the tablet form of the drug is used "at very specific doses" for parasitic worms, while topical formulations can be used for certain skin conditions and head lice. But "often," it is used in the U.S. to prevent or treat parasites in animals.

Further, the ivermectin that some people use is formulated for livestock. A social media post mentioned by Reuters in a report noted that the ivermectin can be purchased from Tractor Supply.

According to the agency, the drugs intended for animals are formulated differently than the ones for humans, often being "highly concentrated" because they are for large animals. Moreover, those higher doses "can be highly toxic in humans," the FDA said.

"The FDA has received multiple reports of patients who have required medical support and been hospitalized after self-medicating with ivermectin intended for horses," the agency noted.

The agency also warned against the message going around that it's fine to take large doses of ivermectin, as even approved levels of it can interact with other medications.

"The FDA's job is to carefully evaluate the scientific data on a drug to be sure that it is both safe and effective for a particular use, and then to decide whether or not to approve it," the agency noted. "Using any treatment for COVID-19 that's not approved or authorized by the FDA, unless part of a clinical trial, can cause serious harm."

FDA Food and Drug The FDA's headquarters and home of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research in Silver Spring, Maryland. Photo: Wikipedia