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Ivermectin sent 5 Oregonians to the hospital

Five Oregonians have been hospitalized over the past six weeks because they misused an anti-parasitic drug not approved to treat COVID-19.

According to the Oregon Poison Center at Oregon Health & Science University, 25 cases were reported involving people who “intentionally misused” veterinary and human forms of ivermectin as an ill-advised COVID-19 home remedy between Aug. 1 and Sept. 14.

Two of those poisoned patients were so ill that they were admitted to intensive care units, according to a news release issued by OHSU.

The cases involved symptoms that included mental confusion, balance issues, low blood pressure and at least one report of a seizure, according to OHSU spokesperson Franny White. The patients ranged in age from 20s to 80s, with most of them older than 60.

“The cases were fairly evenly split between men and women, and between people attempting to either prevent or treat COVID-19,” according to an email from White. “Some cases involved individuals obtaining a prescription for either human or veterinary forms of the drug.”

The Food & Drug Administration says the drug is not an anti-viral. Ivermectin pills are approved by the FDA to treat intestinal parasites, while ivermectin topical creams are approved to treat ailments such as rosacea.

Ivermectin products meant for skin should not be swallowed, according to an Aug. 31 Jackson County Public Health news release. Health officials advise people not to ingest veterinary ivermectin, because the medications are made for animals with very different weights than a human, and may contain ingredients not reviewed for safety by the FDA.

Despite strongly worded warnings from health officials at the local, state and national levels against using ivermectin, the drug continues to be touted on spurious health websites as being part of a “Just-in-Case COVID Kit” alongside more innocuous medicine-cabinet items such as vitamin C, vitamin D3, zinc, melatonin and mouthwash.

Ivermectin was developed in the 1970s from a bacterium in soil, according to a 2017 Trends in Parasitology journal article, and was first floated as potentially useful in treating coronavirus after early studies in the journal Antiviral Research showed that ivermectin inhibited the virus’ replication in lab conditions. But according to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, those studies were made public before the findings were peer reviewed.

A group of researchers in India looked into the drug as an add-on treatment, according to Gavi, but the studies were small and determined only that further trials were needed.

The pharmaceutical company Merck, which manufactures ivermectin for people under the brand name Stromectol, stated earlier this year that pre-clinical studies have shown no potential therapeutic effects, no meaningful evidence that it’s effective for patients diagnosed with COVID-19, and a “concerning lack of safety data in the majority of studies.”

The National Institutes of Health treatment guidelines are constantly evolving as doctors learn more about COVID-19, but doctors are prescribing other treatments for COVID-19 that were carefully tested and approved, according to Dr. Robert Hendrickson, medical director of the Oregon Poison Center and professor of emergency medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine.

“COVID-19 is a devastating disease and can be very frightening, but the public does not need to use — nor should it use — unproven and potentially dangerous drugs to fight it,” Hendrickson.

Anyone experiencing a poisoning should call the Poison Help Line at 1-800-222-1222, or see ohsu.edu/oregon-poison-center.

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.