Health officials in several states are warning residents not to take an anti-parasitic drug — in most cases, a formulation purchased at livestock supply centers — to treat or prevent COVID-19.
The Mississippi State Department of Health issued an alert on Friday that the Mississippi Poison Control Center has received an increasing number of calls from people who have taken the drug known as ivermectin — and that at least 70% of such calls related to "ingestion of livestock or animal formulations of ivermectin purchased at livestock supply centers."
While there are human uses for the drug, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19 in humans and the drug is not an anti-viral medication.
"There are approved uses for ivermectin in both people and animals. Patients should be advised to not take any medications intended to treat animals and should be instructed to only take ivermectin as prescribed by their physician," the Mississippi State Department of Health alert said. "Animal drugs are highly concentrated for large animals and can be highly toxic in humans. Some of the symptoms associated with ivermectin toxicity include rash, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, neurologic disorders, and potentially severe hepatitis requiring hospitalization."
According to the alert, 85% of the callers had mild symptoms, but one person was instructed to seek further evaluation due to the amount of ivermectin they told poison control they had taken.
The FDA tweeted on Saturday: "You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y'all. Stop it."
In Florida, a store in Orlando posted a sign saying it's out of ivermectin and isn't sure when it'll have any again. The calls asking for it picked up in recent weeks.
Business owner Justin Horstmeyer said his store received "questions that we knew weren't current customers, people requesting this specific product only."
"People really need to talk to their doctor before they look to the internet to find some other kind of solution," Seminole County emergency manager Alan Harris said.
The Arkansas Poison Control has seen an increase in calls from people who have been taking the drug, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a news conference Tuesday.
"What we're seeing across the south and not just in our state is that veterinary-grade ivermectin is being taken by humans," Dr. Jose Romero, Arkansas Secretary of Health said. "There is an increase in the numbers of cases both in adults and children."
"It has gotten to the point where it is important to make that public announcement that you have to be careful and not take that which is designed for large animals," Hutchinson said.
In March, the FDA said that people should not use ivermectin to attempt to treat or prevent COVID-19.
"Taking large doses of this drug is dangerous and can cause serious harm," the FDA said.