“You are not horses. And not cows. Serious. Stop using it”. The Food and Drug Administration of the United States (FDA, its acronym in English) posted this post on August 21 on their social networks. The strange warning was accompanied by an article that warned of the dangers of the population consuming ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug mainly for veterinary use, to treat the coronavirus. Despite health authorities denying that the drug is used to combat covid-19, rumors have caused consumption to soar in the United States, to the point that some veterinary clinics need to ration the supply to animals due to shortages.
The source of the misinformation lies in an inconclusive essay published in April 2020 by Monash University in Melbourne (Australia). More specifically, in the most difficult days of confinement, with the pandemic uncontrolled and with no sign on the horizon for a vaccine to treat the virus, an experiment that concluded that ivermectin eliminated the coronavirus from the body within 48 hours was news. Australian scientists warned that the results were preliminary and that they would continue their research. In addition, the discovery indicated that the amount of drug needed to have an effect should be much greater than the dose approved for its use in humans. “DO NOT self-medicate with ivermectin and DO NOT use ivermectin intended for animal use,” said the University of Melbourne.
Numerous groups on Facebook and Reddit, a forum designed to share information, supported conspiracy theories, ignored warnings and spread the “miracle treatment” of ivermectin, a medicine used mainly to kill parasites on horses, dogs and chickens. Due to the interest aroused by Merck, the company that manufactures the drug, it needed to publicly clarify in February that they have not yet found “no scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect” against covid, and that in most studies that indicate a positive impact on patients who consume ivermectin exists “a worrying lack of reliable data”.
In humans, ivermectin tablets are approved under a prescription to treat some internal parasites, such as intestinal worms, and external ones, such as lice, in addition to rosacea, a skin disease. The drug has a version that treats parasites that mainly attack a wide range of animals and can be purchased over the internet and in food stores without any difficulties. That’s where those who believe in its effectiveness against covid are getting the remedy. The FDA said it has received multiple reports of patients requiring medical care, including hospitalization, after self-medicating with ivermectin for cattle. The horse drug concentrates a dose up to seven times higher than the approved dose for humans.
With the delta variant sweeping the United States, ivermectin’s popularity gained further traction at this time. Before the pandemic, doctors delivered 3,600 prescriptions for human use every week. In a week in August, the number reached more than 88,000, according to calculations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, its acronym in English). At the same time, poison control centers received five times more calls related to the drug than in July, according to the The Washington Post, citing the US Toxicology Information Center.
“There is a lot of misinformation” about the benefits of taking large doses of ivermectin and its animal version for the prevention and treatment of covid-19,” warns the FDA on its website. “It’s no use”, “it’s dangerous”, “don’t do it”, they say. The regulatory agency’s warnings, added to those of the World Health Organization, are opposed by prominent figures in the media of the alternative right, as well as by some conservative politicians and doctors. Perhaps the most famous case is that of comedian Joe Rogan who, on his show The Joe Rogan Experience, the world’s highest-rated podcast, included ivermectin as part of its treatment when it became infected with covid.
Another spokesperson for the use of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine is physician Simone Gold. In 2020 he founded America’s Frontline Doctors, which brings together anti-vaccination doctors. After being arrested in January for participating in the attack on the US Capitol, she continued to spread misinformation about covid treatment. Weeks ago he gave a talk at a California church in which he offered participants a prescription for ivermectin through a teleconsultation for 90 dollars (495 reais).
Meanwhile, pet food stores suffer from the side effects of misinformation. AV&V Tack and Feed, in Las Vegas, sells ivermectin for its use on horses. Demand has progressively increased in recent months, so much so that the drug has run out. The owner of the place, Shelly Smith, because of what was happening with the drug and its use in humans, hung a sign that said: “Don’t drink this”, as she told local TV network KNTV. Upon proving that it had no effect, it required customers who wanted to buy ivermectin to present a photo with their animal. Now the problem is that it does not find a supplier to supply it and the owners of sick horses cannot treat them.
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