PHOENIX — Ivermectin, a drug used in both humans and livestock as a de-wormer agent, has surged in popularity as unproven claims about its effectiveness in fighting COVID-19 spread.
The Western Ranchman, a Phoenix feed and supply shop, has continuously been selling out of the drug for the past six months, according to store manager Joe Robinson. They were just able to get a few boxes back in supply this week.
"The horse people are usually our normal customers anyways, so we know when they're buying it. And, you just see the other people, and you know they don't have horses," Robinson said. "They're not buying just one; they're buying multiple tubes of it."
Robinson said the store usually sells a box containing about 12 tubes of paste a month on average. Lately, that number has gone up to about 100 or more.
He said first-time customers coming in aren't just buying up the type for horses either — they'll grab anything labeled "Ivermectin."
"We do carry an injectable — a sheep drench. It's all labeled Ivermectin," Robinson said. "They see it; they grab it, they don't have a clue what they're getting into."
Dr. Janice Johnston with Redirect Health notes that the drug is approved for use in humans in some instances.
"In humans, we use it to treat parasitic-type of infections," Johnston said. "So think of, like, roundworms and sometimes head lice and things like that."
COVID-19, however, is not a parasite — it's a virus. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration is advising against using Ivermectin to treat COVID-19, Johnston said.
She said some smaller lab studies have shown the drug could have a positive effect on COVID-19, but those studies have been done in a petri dish, not on people.
"The dosing to reach that level in a human body needs to be substantially higher," Johnston said. "What we are concerned about are the toxic effects of it."
Those toxic effects could result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or worse. Still, some people have been taking the risk.
"We've had a few of our customers who swear by it," Robinson said. "Myself? I wouldn't take it. There's no way I'd take it myself."
"For one thing, animal drugs are often highly concentrated because they are used for large animals like horses and cows, which weigh a lot more than we do—a ton or more," the agency said. "Such high doses can be highly toxic in humans. Moreover, the FDA reviews drugs not just for safety and effectiveness of the active ingredients, but also for the inactive ingredients. Many inactive ingredients found in products for animals aren't evaluated for use in people. Or they are included in much greater quantity than those used in people. In some cases, we don't know how those inactive ingredients will affect how Ivermectin is absorbed in the human body."
Here's what Johnston does recommends for those that think they have COVID-19:
- Get tested to confirm you actually do have COVID-19
- Take supplements like vitamins C and D, and zinc to boost your immune system.
- Quarantine in your home and monitor your symptoms.
- It's a good idea to have a pulse oximeter on hand to keep an eye on your oxygen levels. If they dip to the low 90s or lower, Johnston said, it could be a concern.
This story was originally published by Amelia Fabiano on Scripps station KNXV in Phoenix.