SC doctors, farmers concerned by people using livestock product to treat COVID

Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 7:00 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 7, 2021 at 7:40 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Farm supply stores in the Lowcountry do not offer COVID-19 treatment, but that has not stopped some people from showing up seeking ivermectin products to try to alleviate symptoms of the virus.

Now, South Carolina farmers are afraid that they will not be able to get the ivermectin that they need for their livestock.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had a problem getting it,” Keegan-Filion Farm owner Marc Filion said.

Inside the Tractor Supply Company store in Ravenel, the ivermectin shelf is sitting empty. This comes after false rumors circulated on social media that the animal deworming product could be used to limit the effects of coronavirus, worrying doctors.

“It’s not an effective or safe treatment for COVID-19,” Dr. Taylor Morrisette of the Medical University of South Carolina said. “Ivermectin products for animals are extremely different than ivermectin products for people.”

While the kind of ivermectin that is sold in farm supply stores might not be approved or recommended for people to use, Dr. Michael Neault, Clemson University’s Director of Livestock Poultry Health, says that it is commonly given to farm animals.

“Ivermectin is one of the most used veterinary antiparasitics worldwide,” Neault said. “For livestock and horses, it’s an effective treatment for roundworms.”

“People should not take a product that is labeled for animal use,” Neault added.

Filion says ivermectin is utilized on pigs and cattle at his farm outside Walterboro in Colleton County.

“If we don’t get the ivermectin or a wormer in those pigs at five weeks of age, we’ll start seeing them getting weak,” Filion said. “They could start developing scours, which is basically diarrhea. They could dehydrate and they could be dead in a matter of a week or two.”

Neault said that concerned South Carolina farmers have been calling Clemson and other entities stating that they cannot find the ivermectin that they need in stores.

“The FDA has not approved ivermectin for use in treating or preventing COVID-19 in humans,” South Carolina Cattlemen’s Association Executive Director Travis Mitchell said. “A recent surge in demand for the drug is cause for concern both because it can be dangerous when misused and because a shortage would make it hard for farmers and ranchers to treat their animals, if needed.”

In some cases, a different version of ivermectin can be used in humans to treat parasites such as worms, but it is not used frequently in the United States, according to Palmetto Poison Center Managing Director Dr. Jill Michels.

“The concern is people are buying this medication that’s not for human use and guessing the correct dose,” Michels said regarding the ivermectin that is sold in farm supply stores. “These products are highly concentrated for horses. An incorrect estimate of how much you should take may result in an overdose.”

The Food and Drug Administration also warns the side effects from taking too much ivermectin can range from nausea to death.

Meanwhile, at the Tractor Supply Company store in Ravenel, a sign has been placed where ivermectin used to be found warning customers that the product is not a certified COVID-19 treatment.

“It’s concerning [that] people are relying on social media and information from their friends and their neighbors for medical advice,” Michels said. “We urge you to listen to your doctor and pharmacist.”

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