A Waimea hospital is warning Big Islanders to not use products containing the anti-parasitic medication ivermectin to prevent or treat COVID-19.
Queen’s North Hawaii Community Hospital released a statement Friday on the heels of a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory saying the CDC “confirmed with the American Association of Poison Control Centers that human exposures and adverse effects associated with ivermectin reported to poison control centers have increased in 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic baseline. These reports include increased use of veterinary products not meant for human consumption.”
“Our Waimea community is known for its ranches and agriculture. As a result, ivermectin is found in many households as a wormer for horses and other livestock,” said Cindy Kamakawa, the hospital’s president. “We want to make sure that our community is aware of the hazards of taking a product that has not been proven to prevent or treat COVID-19.”
Ivermectin has been in the news lately, as has hydroxychloroquine in the past year, as measures touted by some to prevent or treat the disease. An Arkansas physician is under investigation by the state’s medical board for allegedly treating inmates at a county jail with ivermectin.
In addition, a Maui group calling itself the Pono Coalition for Informed Consent has posted videos on its website with a pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Kirk Milhoan — who’s also senior pastor at Calvary Chapel South Maui — saying he has used ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine as part of an “early treatment” protocol for COVID-19.
“I want to be clear — hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin should not be used to treat COVID-19,” state Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char said earlier this week. “Taking unprescribed large doses of ivermectin or doses intended for animals can cause serious harm.”
Char also accused the group of “spreading misinformation about … lifesaving vaccines.”
The Delta variant of the novel coronavirus has caused COVID-19 cases to spike, mostly among the unvaccinated. On Friday, there were 1,035 new cases statewide and 184 on Hawaii Island, both record-high numbers.
“The tragedy of this spike is that, by and large, it’s preventable,” Char said. “We have vaccines that will save the lives of Hawaii residents.”
Tim Richards, a County Council member and Waimea veterinarian, said he’s “received a lot of phone calls, and I deal with the livestock crowd … but the science is not there,” in regard to ivermectin and COVID-19.
“It’s not an antiviral drug. There’s no evidence that it is,” Richards said. “And none of the suppliers that I’m aware of had had a run on the stuff. But in the stores, I’ve certainly seen the labels ‘this is not an antiviral drug.’ And I’m deeply concerned about toxicity because the concentration, especially the livestock stuff, is pretty high because we’re dealing with large animals. And if you try to use this stuff, you’ll probably overdose.
“It’s not safe, and that’s the problem.”
Lisa Wood, another Waimea veterinarian, said ivermectin “is not a prescription drug.”
“People can buy it over the counter at feed stores. It’s a commonly used de-wormer for large animals. But I do think it’s important for people to know it can be very deadly,” Wood said. “We don’t use it for anti-viral effects or anything like that. I certainly wouldn’t recommend that people use it at all.
“There’s a lot of good information about what we can do to control COVID, and we should follow those recommendations. But I would not self-medicate with ivermectin.”
According to the CDC, clinical effects of ivermectin overdose include gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Overdoses are associated with extremely low blood pressure and neurological effects such as decreased consciousness, confusion, hallucinations, seizures, coma and death.
Reported cases include a Mississippi man hospitalized after ingesting ivermectin. That state’s health department issued a warning on Aug. 20 telling people to not take the drug, adding Mississippi’s poison control center has “received an increasing number of calls from individuals with potential ivermectin exposure taken to treat or prevent COVID-19 infection.”
In Texas, sales of ivermectin have skyrocketed, and poison control center calls in the Lone Star State have increased more than five-fold.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns it “has not approved ivermectin for use in treating or preventing COVID-19 in humans.”
An Aug. 21 tweet from the FDA said: “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”
“We are in a crisis,” said Char. “COVID-19 will continue to take lives until we do the right thing and come together behind vaccination.”
“Using ivermectin is not the way to go. It is not an antiviral; it does not do what people are saying it does. It is dangerous,” added Richards. “Get vaccinated.”
Wood said she thinks those who self-medicate are acting out of fear.
“It’s scary, and as people get more concerned and more desperate, I think they’re more willing to take risks,” she said. “And the biggest risk is not to get vaccinated.
“Go get vaccinated.”
Email John Burnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.