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Do not use drug designed to treat parasitic worms for COVID-19

Oregon Poison Center at OHSU experiences substantial increase in calls involving intentional misuse of ivermectin
a white bottle labeled 'Ivermectin' sits on a wooden surface with about 15 unmarked white pills in front.
The Oregon Poison Center, which has recently experienced a substantial increase in the number of calls about the antiparasitic drug ivermectin, warns the public against using it to treat or prevent COVID-19. Misusing ivermectin - which is designed to treat parasitic worms and some skin conditions - can cause nausea, diarrhea, low blood pressure, itching and hives, dizziness, balance problems, seizures and even death. (Getty Images)

Sept. 14 UPDATE: This story was updated to include the total number of intentional misuse cases involving ivermectin that the Oregon Poison Center managed throughout August 2021.

Despite the Food and Drug Administration’s warning against using an antiparasitic to prevent or treat COVID-19, some Americans are misusing the medication during the pandemic.

The Oregon Poison Center at Oregon Health & Science University is fielding a substantial number of calls about the drug ivermectin, which is approved to treat parasitic worms and some skin conditions. While the center managed just three cases of intentionally misusing ivermectin in all of 2020, it managed 21 such cases in August 2021.

“Misusing a drug for something other than its intended purpose can have very dangerous – and sometimes deadly – consequences,” said Robert Hendrickson, M.D., medical director of the Oregon Poison Center and professor of emergency medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine.

Taking too much ivermectin can cause nausea, diarrhea, low blood pressure, itching and hives, dizziness, balance problems, seizures and even death. Ingesting ivermectin formulations that are designed for animals is especially dangerous, as veterinary medications are often more concentrated and many of their ingredients aren’t considered safe for human use.

“The best way to not get COVID-19 is by receiving a highly effective and safe vaccine that has been approved by the FDA and CDC, as well as practicing the standard public health recommendations of avoiding crowds, wearing masks when in public and frequently washing your hands,” Hendrickson said.

There are several vetted and approved treatments available for those who become ill with COVID-19. People who experience COVID-19 symptoms or are exposed to COVID-19 are encouraged to contact their primary care provider for assistance, and to only go to an emergency department if they are experiencing severe symptoms and need emergency medical assistance. Oregonians who don’t have a primary care provider or have COVID-19 questions can call the OHSU COVID-19 Connected Care Center hotline: 833-647-8222. Those who take ivermectin for COVID-19 can also call the Oregon Poison Center: 800-222-1222.

Although some research is being conducted to examine ivermectin's potential use against the novel coronavirus, that research is ongoing and still needs to be vetted by U.S. authorities. And a study of the drug, which hadn’t undergone the scientific peer review process, was recently withdrawn from a pre-print research web server after concerns were raised about data manipulation and plagiarism.

The World Health Organization has also advised that the medication should only be used as part of COVID-19 clinical trials until more conclusive evidence is available. There are only a few COVID-19 clinical trials involving the drug in the U.S., and none are in Oregon.

If you or a loved one is experiencing a poison emergency, call the Oregon Poison Center at 800-222-1222. A trained health care provider is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The call is free and confidential. Poison prevention education and other poison safety resources are available at https://www.ohsu.edu/oregon-poison-center. 

Accredited by the American Association of Poison Control Centers, the Oregon Poison Center is a designated regional poison control center for Oregon, Alaska and Guam.

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