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Stampede for horse med ivermectin, bogus treatment for COVID-19, steers clear of Upper Valley

  • Concord Monitor — Teddy Rosenbluth Ivermectin is now held in a locked case at the Tractor Supply Co. in Chichester.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/2/2021 9:30:12 PM
Modified: 9/2/2021 9:30:20 PM

WEST LEBANON — Use of ivermectin, a common animal dewormer, to treat COVID-19 — especially by those opposed to vaccination — does not appear to be widespread in the Upper Valley.

But health officials and others remain alarmed by the national trend that is being driven by online misinformation and has led to increased calls to poison control centers around the country.

While the livestock drug is not flying off the shelves of Upper Valley feed stores as it is in some parts of the country, health care providers have seen patients become ill from taking it. And increased demand for the drug is spurring some feed stores in the Twin States to lock it up or add signs warning people that animal-grade ivermectin is not intended for use in humans.

Meanwhile, some New Hampshire farmers also report finding it difficult to restock the dewormer for their animals.

“We are seeing a lot of harm of this in the community,” Dr. Michael Calderwood, chief quality officer at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, said in a video posted to YouTube on Tuesday.

Calderwood said that some patients are turning to ivermectin — which is not an antiviral medication — instead of seeking medical treatment with therapeutics that have been approved for treating COVID-19.

In humans, ivermectin has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in tablet form at specific doses for some parasitic worms and topical treatments for head lice and skin conditions like rosacea.

In larger doses and combined with fillers not approved for human use, it also is used to deworm farm animals such as horses.

An ivermectin overdose can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, allergic reactions, dizziness, problems with balance, seizures, coma and even death, according to the FDA.

Tractor Supply Co., which has stores in the Upper Valley on Miracle Mile in Lebanon and on Main Street in Claremont, has taken pains to warn customers that ivermectin-containing products it sells — including some dewormers and injectables — are intended only for use in animals and have not been approved for treating COVID-19 in humans. Last month, the company directed its stores around the country to display warning signs alongside ivermectin products.

The signage was on view in the Chichester, N.H., Tractor Supply Co. store recently where yellow containers of ivermectin are kept behind a locked cabinet, the Concord Monitorreported.

“If customers have questions about COVID-19, we suggest consulting a licensed physician,” Tractor Supply said in an emailed statement. It also points customers to the FDA’s website for more information.

For its part, the FDA has taken to Twitter to warn consumers about ivermectin.

“You are not a horse,” the agency wrote in a tweet last month. “You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”

While there are clinical trials underway of the use of ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19, a May review of those studies in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that “overall, the reliable evidence available does not support the use ivermectin for treatment or prevention of COVID-19 outside of well-designed randomized trials.”

This year, poison control centers across the U.S. saw a threefold increase in the number of calls for human exposures to ivermectin in January compared to the pre-pandemic baseline, according to a health advisory issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month. In July, ivermectin calls increased sharply, fivefold compared with pre-pandemic numbers. There also has been an associated increase in emergency department and hospital visits, the CDC said.

Those sharp increases don’t appear to be playing out locally. In an email this week, Calderwood did not specify how many patients have sought care for ivermectin overdoses at DHMC, but it’s not a large number.

“We are not seeing a significant number of overdoses or side effects from ivermectin at this time, but we worry about what we might see if people self-dose with veterinary medicine,” he said.

Vermont does not appear to be seeing cases of ivermectin overdoses or other side effects, according to Katie Warchut, a spokeswoman for the Vermont Department of Health. The department’s database of EMS calls and emergency department visits does not show any cases of people seeking care for ivermectin-related issues from June 1 through Aug. 31, she said.

Warchut echoed the FDA’s warning that animal drugs have not been evaluated for safety or effectiveness in humans and that “treating human medical conditions with veterinary drugs can be very dangerous.”

Curt Jacques, owner of West Lebanon Feed & Supply, said a tube of the concentrated ivermectin that his store sells is intended for a 1,200-pound horse, though the dosage can be dialed down for 400-pound pony. If customers ask his employees about it, they say it’s “animal grade (and) not safe to take.”

While Jacques said he hasn’t seen people coming in to search of the drug for themselves, he also said, “People do funny things no matter what you tell them.”

He also said he was sympathetic with people who are looking for cheaper medications and when the same drug is available for humans and animals he can see why people might think they are the same.

All FDA-approved and -authorized COVID-19 vaccinations are free, regardless of provider or a patient’s insurance status.

Dr. Dan Kelly, a small animal veterinarian at Stonecliff Animal Clinic of New Hampshire on Mechanic Street in Lebanon, said he does not anticipate a shortage of ivermectin in his clinic.

Given the way ivermectin works to paralyze the neurologic system of a certain class of parasites and given that viruses don’t have nervous systems, Kelly said he is doubtful that the drug would work to treat the coronavirus.

He is, however, aware of the harm that an overdose can cause. Ivermectin toxicity occurs in animals, most commonly when dog owners use more concentrated products intended for livestock rather than products intended for canines, Kelly said.

“The appropriate dose of ivermectin in humans is relatively safe, but using products intended for livestock in humans could prove lethal,” Kelly said.

In the meantime, increased demand for the drug is creating supply problems for some New Hampshire farmers.

Katie Anthony, who uses the drug to periodically deworm her two horses in Sutton, N.H., said in March, after her Amazon subscription was back-ordered and her local farm stores were sold out, she decided to use some expired ivermectin she found in her barn.

Then, her pony, Bella starting showing symptoms of worms, which Anthony attributes to the long period between their dewormings.

“I have goats, dogs and kids, so making sure we keep a handle on communicable parasites is really important,” she said.

Beth Glasmann, who owns a hobby farm in Goshen, N.H., said she is down to her last tube of ivermectin and hasn’t been able to find a refill at her local farm stores or online.

“It makes no sense to me,” she said. “If you use it on goats, you have to withdraw from drinking the milk for seven days and from eating the meat for 14 days. So, why people think it’s a good idea to put that into their body I have no idea.”

Material from the Concord Monitor was used in this report. Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




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