New ivermectin interest raises alarm

Health Canada has issued a warning as people begin using a common livestock drug to ward off COVID. | Screencap via durvet.com

Increased demand for a common livestock drug, ignited by an unproven belief it can treat COVID, is causing alarm.

“If there is a run on ivermectin because people are taking it for themselves, that’s a sad comment on the willingness of people to take risks on unproven things,” said Dr. Louis Kwantes, president of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.

“It doesn’t seem to be anything that a person would want to fool around with — taking an unapproved product without having a prescription.”

Most widely used in the agricultural community to control parasites in cattle, ivermectin is also marketed as a paste for treating horses.

It’s the paste that has drawn the most interest from those looking for a COVID cure, to the point that Health Canada issued a warning about such off-label use.

“Health Canada has received concerning reports of the use of veterinary ivermectin to prevent or treat COVID-19,” read the health advisory issued Aug. 31. “Canadians should never consume health products intended for animals because of the potential serious health dangers posed by them.”

Side-effects from human consumption of animal versions of the drug include “vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, allergic reactions, dizziness, seizures, coma and even death,” according to the Health Canada notice.

Those side effects tied to the toxicity of the drug can even manifest themselves in animals treated with ivermectin.

“There are some animals that we can use ivermectin at prescribed doses without any problem. And there are others that use of ivermectin will be fatal,” said Kwantes, highlighting that some species of dogs have genetic negative predispositions to the drug.

“What I’ve understood, it’s the horse paste medication that people are taking and part of the problem is the concentration is so much higher because of the bigger body mass.”

Julie Brewster, Alberta Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders manager, said the drug should only be used for the animals it’s prescribed for.

“It’s not intended for human use. It’s intended to get rid of worms in horses. For any breeders I know, they will stick to the intended use of ivermectin,” she said.

People buying it for uses other than livestock will also complicate life for those in the agricultural sector, she added.

“A shortage of it will be detrimental to horse herds. I hope there isn’t a run on it because it’s very effective for what we use it for and if it is ever a possible cure for something else, I think we’ll all wait for the drug trials to come out and let us know how else we can use it,” said Brewster. “There is no way I would waste it on anything other than my critter.”

Kwantes said it’s possible that ivermectin could be an effective treatment for COVID, but no studies have shown that.

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