Routine wormer given by two vets to an uncooperative horse with a needle

Photo: Chelle129 (Shutterstock)

The FDA had to warns people this week not to be treated with ivermectin, a drug often used to de-worm horses. Yes, people seem to be buying the stuff themselves from pet food stores and using it to self-treat for COVID-19.

If this sounds familiar, you may still remember it when people used antiparasitic drugs on fish tried to protect themselves from the virus last year. At least one person died in the process.

The excitement for these alternative treatments comes from the same people who don’t want to wear masks or take COVID vaccines. Although hundreds of millions of people have been vaccinated and the vaccines have proven overwhelmingly safe, a worryingly large segment of the population would rather trust a drug that has not been shown to work against the coronavirus.

Or summarized like a medic on twitter: “I love the irony of a thousand people screaming ‘I’m not a sheep’ while buying sheep wetting.”

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All right, what is ivermectin and why shouldn’t I indulge myself?

Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic drug. It’s found in some prescription-only products for humans, but the easiest and cheapest way to get your hands on some is to go to your local feed store and purchase horse dewormers or one of the other ivermectin products made for animals. (It’s found in heartworm medication for dogs, for example.) But since horses and cows are large animals, the doses for them are similar: for example, a 9 inch tube of toothpaste is a single dose for a 1,250 pound horse.

“People should never take veterinary drugs” the FDA sighs audibly. These drugs are often more concentrated than the human intended versions, and the inactive ingredients are not necessarily approved for use in human medicines or human food. Basically, it doesn’t mean it’s safe for you or your loved ones just because it doesn’t kill a horse.

Ivermectin is also a real drug. Medications have side effects and interactions, and ivermectin is no exception. The FDA says:

Even the concentrations of ivermectin for approved uses [in humans] may interact with other drugs such as blood thinners. You can also overdose on ivermectin, which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hypotension (low blood pressure), allergic reactions (itching and hives), dizziness, ataxia (balance problems), seizures, coma, and even death.

If you have COVID or are concerned about exposure, you should get tested, stay away from others until you feel better, and get medical help as needed (from a folk doctor, not a veterinarian) take advantage of.

And please watch out for your friends and relatives who may receive poor information about COVID prevention and treatment from Facebook or other sources. The vaccines are far safer and more effective than any unproven treatment, whether it’s equine dewormers, essential oils, or prescription drugs bought from a friend’s sketchy doctor.