Are people in Graham and Greenlee counties taking ivermectin in the belief that it will cure COVID-19? Possibly.
Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic medication for both humans and animals. Interest and use of the drug to try to treat COVID-19 has grown in the past few months after anti-COVID-19 vaccine media figures, politicians, conspiracy theorists and fringe physicians have been promoting the drug.
However, there’s a lack of evidence that it works and there have been warnings from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other health officials that taking the drug, especially versions made for animals, can be deadly to humans.
Ivermectin tablets are prescribed by doctors to treat some forms of parasitic worms in people. An ivermectin topical ointment can also be prescribed by doctors to human patients to treat head lice or rosacea. Ivermectin is also available in paste, pour-on, injectable and other forms for use on animals to prevent and treat heart worms and other parasites. The ivermectin appropriate for use in humans must be prescribed by a doctor, while the ivermectin used for animals can be purchased online or from your local animal feed store without a prescription, leading some people to head to their local feed store or online to purchase medication meant for animals, not humans.
“That’s lovely,” Trey Robinette, an employee of Town and Country Supply in Duncan said, sarcastically, after being told what some people around the country are doing with ivermectin formulas meant for animals.
Robinette said he hasn’t seen an increase in customers asking about or buying ivermectin products besides the people he recognizes as people with horses and other animals that need the deworming medication for their animals.
Although clinical trials to see if ivermectin tablets can help in prevention or treatment of COVID-19 are ongoing, current data does not show that it does.
What scares medical professionals though is people getting their hands on ivermectin formulations that are meant for large animals and possibly overdosing because they’ve taken large animal size doses of the drug.
The FDA writes on their website in a section titled “Why You Should Not Use Ivermectin to Treat or Prevent COVID-19,” that, “Even the levels of ivermectin for approved human uses can interact with other medications, like blood-thinners. You can also overdose on ivermectin, which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hypotension (low blood pressure), allergic reactions (itching and hives), dizziness, ataxia (problems with balance), seizures, coma and even death.
An employee of H&S Feed Tack and Western Wear in Thatcher who declined to give their name said they too have not seen an increase in people looking to buy ivermectin products in the community.
“I don’t think our community is falling for that rumor,” they said.
But at the Tractor Supply Co. in Thatcher, store manager Susan Tefft said she has seen an increase in people asking for ivermectin products.
“People have been asking for it who normally don’t ask for it,” Tefft said.
Tefft’s been the manager of the store for seven years. She said she can recognize who has come by the store before to buy ivermectin products for their animals and who has not come by before.
To dissuade people from taking the drug, the store has put up signs next to the product that says “Ivermectin HAS NOT BEEN APPROVED by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in treating or preventing COVID-19 in humans and could cause severe personal injury or death. These products are only suitable for animals and are clearly labeled as such.”
“People want it,” Tefft said, “but I don’t have it.”
Tefft said the store has recently run into supply chain issues, leaving fewer ivermectin products in the stores shelves. She didn’t attribute the supply issue to anything in particular, but she did say that in the past the drug has been difficult to get.
Shaylee Richards, the director of marketing and community relations for Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center said the hospital is “unaware of any” ivermectin overdose cases in Graham County.
Both Brian Douglas, Graham County’s Health Department director and Dr. Fred Fox, Greenlee County Health Department’s medical director, said they were also unaware of any cases of people overdosing on ivermectin in either county.
Douglas compared ivermectin to trends earlier on in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic when people were spurred on by various politicians, media figures and conspiracy theorists to use hydroxychloroquine, a medication used to prevent or treat malaria and to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, to treat or prevent COVID-19, which was also shown to not treat the COVID-19.
Instead, the best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is to get vaccinated, Fox said.
“That’s not only to protect themselves, but their loved ones who might be more susceptible to the disease,” Fox said.
For people who are nervous about getting the vaccine, Fox said he tries to take people through why he decided to take the vaccine and why hundreds of millions of people across the country and more across the world have taken it.
“I don’t try to criticize people. I tell people my own experience with the vaccine, that I took it,” Fox said, “and the safety has been overwhelmingly demonstrated.”
“People can protect themselves by getting vaccinated and other mitigation efforts like wearing a mask, washing their hands and socially distancing,” Douglas said.
Douglas said he still hopes to see a medication or a treatment that can actually be prescribed at a clinical level by a primary care doctor to prevent people who have COVID-19 from having to go to an emergency room or dying. That medication or treatment has not presented itself in clinical research yet though, Douglas said.