Island feed stores say they’re seeing increased interest in a horse deworming medicine as a result of unproven claims that it could treat COVID-19.
Mackenzie Stanyer, a clerk at Buckerfields in Duncan, said staff are seeing more unfamiliar faces asking about ivermectin, often used to treat or prevent parasites in animals.
“We’re having people say they’re having their doctors tell them to come get it from us as a treatment for COVID,” she said.
Top Shelf Feeds, a farm supply store with three locations on the Island, is having trouble stocking the medicine as demand surges, said general manager Dennis Comeau.
When a new shipment does arrive, it won’t be going on the shelf, he said. Instead, managers will be asking customers what they’re using ivermectin for in an attempt to ensure the drug only goes to those using it for horses, Comeau said.
At a veterinary office in North Saanich, practice manager Kayleigh Janssen said they’re not having problems accessing the drug. They are receiving requests for ivermectin from the public, but only sell to their regular clients, whose horses they’ve seen within the last year, Janssen said.
The claim that ivermectin could be an effective treatment for COVID-19 has swept across the U.S. and now parts of Canada, including the Island, leading to people ingesting a medicine meant for horses despite warnings from multiple health agencies that it’s a dangerous practice.
Ivermectin is used in humans, particularly in developing countries, to treat parasites and skin conditions, but not in the doses given to horses, said Lewis Nelson, chair of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
There are more effective treatments for COVID-19, but the best thing anyone can do is get vaccinated to significantly reduce the chance of becoming sick with the virus, he said.
“Even if it worked, it still wouldn’t be better than a vaccine and it doesn’t really seem to work and it is dangerous,” he said.
Health Canada issued an alert Tuesday warning ivermectin is not authorized to prevent or treat COVID-19 and may cause serious health problems.
The agency is advising Canadians not to use either the veterinary or human versions of ivermectin after receiving “concerning” reports of people using veterinary-grade ivermectin.
“The veterinary version of ivermectin, especially at high doses, can be dangerous for humans and may cause serious health problems such as vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, allergic reactions, dizziness, seizures, coma and even death. Ivermectin products for animals have a higher concentrated dose than ivermectin products for people,” the agency said.
The human version is only authorized for sale in Canada for the treatment of parasitic worm infections.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also issued a warning with a tweet: “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”
The FDA said it has received multiple reports of people who have required medical treatment and hospitalization after taking ivermectin intended for horses.
Since March, nine cases have been reported by B.C.’s Drug and Poison Information Centre of people taking veterinary-grade ivermectin in an attempt to treat COVID-19, according to the Provincial Health Services Authority. No serious adverse effects were reported.
The health authority said there were no calls to the centre about ivermectin during the two previous years.