FARGO, N.D. (AP) – North Dakota health officials took to an internet town hall Tuesday to promote certain treatments for COVID-19 and discourage use of the anti-parasitic medicine ivermectin.
Ivermectin has a limited scope for human treatment, sometimes prescribed for worms, scabies and head lice. It is more popular in veterinary form as a treatment for parasitic infections and infestations in cows and horses. The Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other medical groups and Merck, maker of the drug, have warned against use of the drug for treating or preventing COVID-19 in humans.
Across the country, calls to poison control centers regarding ivermectin overdoses or exposures has increased five-fold from the pre-pandemic level, according to the CDC. North Dakota health officials say data on ivermectin sickness is limited and poison control has only documented a couple of such cases. However, Dr. Joshua Ranum of West River Regional Medical Center said the stories are out there.
“The ivermectin issue is interesting,” Ranum said. “We of course live out in farm and ranch and country. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that the cows didn’t get their full dose of ivermectin because some of it accidentally went down the hatch.”
The veterinary form of ivermectin has high concentrations of the drug because of the high body mass of horses and cows. Adverse effects of the drug in humans include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased consciousness, confusion, hallucinations, seizures, coma and death, health officials said.
There are better and safer options, according to Ranum and state Health Department spokesman Kirby Kruger.
Antibody treatments for people with mild-to-moderate cases who aren’t yet in the hospital have become a popular choice for North Dakota residents, Ranum said. The so-called monoclonal antibody drugs are well-tolerated with less than 1 percent of people at risk for some sort of allergic reaction, Ranum said.
“Out of the list of treatment acceptance, I would say monoclonals has been probably the highest,” Ranum said. “Unfortunately, we would like to see vaccines at or above that level as well.”
Kruger said other therapies approved by the FDA for people with COVID-19 who generally are not hospitalized include steroids and antivirals like remdesivir.
“I think the bottom line is that these are the therapies that have shown in clinical trials to be effective in helping to reduce severe outcomes, shorten hospitalizations and other things like that,” Kruger said.
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