People Shouldn’t Need to Be Told Not to Take Horse Medicine, and Yet

People Shouldn’t Need to Be Told Not to Take Horse Medicine, and Yet

The U.S. FDA had to warn people not to medicate themselves with ivermectin, a drug often used to deworm horses. And similarly, in Australia, warnings are circulating after reports have emerged of people attempting to use the drug as a COVID-19 treatment.

If this sounds familiar, perhaps you remember when people were using antiparasitics meant for fish to attempt to protect themselves from the virus last year. At least one person died as a result.

The excitement over these alternative treatments comes from the same people who don’t want to wear masks or take COVID vaccines. Even though hundreds of millions of people have been vaccinated, and the vaccines have been shown to be overwhelmingly safe, a disturbingly large proportion of people would rather trust a drug that is not proven to work on the coronavirus.

Or as one medical professional summarized on Twitter: “I adore the irony of a thousand people yelling ‘I’m not a sheep”’ while purchasing sheep drench.”

Alright, so what is ivermectin and why shouldn’t I treat myself to some?

Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic drug. It’s in a few prescription products meant for humans, but the easiest and cheapest way to get your hands on some is to walk into your local feed store and buy horse dewormer, or any of the other ivermectin products meant for animals. (It’s in heartworm medications for dogs, for example.)

But since horses and cows are large animals, the doses for them are similarly large: for example, a 9-inch toothpaste tube is a single dose for a 500 kg horse.

“People should never take animal drugs,” the FDA has stressed. These medications are often more concentrated than the versions intended for humans, and the inactive ingredients have not necessarily been approved for use in human medications or human food. Basically, just because it won’t kill a horse doesn’t mean that it’s safe for you or your loved ones.

Ivermectin is also an actual drug. Drugs have side effects and interactions, and ivermectin is no exception. The FDA says:

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

If you have COVID or if you are worried because you have been exposed, appropriate actions to take would include getting tested, staying away from others until you feel better, and seeking medical care (from a people doctor, not a veterinarian) as warranted.

And please, watch out for your friends and relatives who might be getting bad information about COVID preventatives and treatments from Facebook or other sources.

The vaccines are far safer and more effective than any unproven treatment, whether it’s horse dewormer, essential oils, or prescription meds bought from somebody’s friend’s friend’s sketchy “doctor”.

This article has been updated since its original publish date.

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