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No, Quad-Citians aren't overdosing on ivermectin
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No, Quad-Citians aren't overdosing on ivermectin

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Danny Chun sighed after he picked up the phone earlier this week and heard another journalist asking another question about ivermectin.

Chun is the spokesperson for the Illinois Poison Control Center, and social media was blowing up with stories about people getting sick while using an anti-bacterial drug prescribed to farm animals to treat COVID-19.

"Ivermectin?" Chun said. "I don't really know why this is a story. Since January — I mean January of this year — we've had exactly seven reports of ivermectin poisoning in people. That's seven incidents in the first eight months of this year.

"And there is a strong possibility some of those seven were simply over-exposures where people got sick from it while administering it to animals. I have to tell you, ivermectin poisoning is not high on my list of concerns."

A call to the Iowa Center for Poison Control and brief chat with Media Coordinator Tammy Noble offered more details.

"In August we had five cases of human exposure to ivermectin in Iowa," Noble said. "Three were what we call typical: A person administering the drug was exposed to it and was sickened. Two of the cases were of people voluntarily taking the drug and becoming sick."

Ivermectin is not a big story in Illinois or Iowa — but it was prescribed nearly 100,000 times in August, 20 times its pre-pandemic level.

An anti-parasite drug, ivermectin is commonly used to fight worms in large farm animals and is approved to treat certain parasitic worms in humans. It is readily available in a form and dosage for humans, but it is not an antiviral medication, and there is no evidence it is effective in preventing or treating COVID-19.

Both Chun and Noble stressed they could pass along only the cases reported to their respective poison control centers. Some cases go to local emergency rooms and are never reported.

A check with Genesis Health System and UnityPoint Health-Trinity showed there have been no cases of people seeking emergency help because of ivermectin poisoning.

Ivermectin's original use to combat COVID-19 is the story of doctors searching a wide array of drugs to help those who contracted the virus during the early months of the pandemic. After what seemed like some very early, but limited, success, ivermectin's use spread through South America and Africa. It remained in use in countries that do not have widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines.

Ivermectin made its first big media splash in December 2020, after Dr. Pierre Kory, called it a “wonder drug” in the battle against COVID-19 while testifying before a Senate panel chaired by Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson.

At the time, Kory was a pulmonary care specialist in Wisconsin and Johnson was one of a number of elected officials touting alternative treatments to COVID-19. Kory's testimony was, in fact, a sharp departure from what he said about ivermectin just months before. Early on, Kory said ivermectin could be used as a possible therapeutic bridge until COVID-19 vaccines could be developed.

After Kory's testimony, based on now-debunked studies out of Egypt and parts of South America, ivermectin became a complicated and increasingly polarizing topic.

Kory has remained a vocal advocate of ivermectine and became a popular go-to resource for right-wing radio hosts like Alex Jones. His appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience on June 22 offered Kory massive exposure on multiple social media and podcast formats.

Another group, America's Front Line Doctors, picked up ivermectine advocacy. The now-infamous group appeared in a viral video pushing hydroxychloroquine and has promoted vaccine conspiracy theories. A website founded by AFLD offers for-fee medical consultations and customers can pay physicians to write them prescriptions for human-use ivermectine.

While Kory, Rogan, AFLD and a host of right-wing and broadly anti-government talking heads have continued to push ivermectin, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have continued to stress the anti-bacterial drug is no COVID-19 wonder drug.

Chun and Noble echoed the agencies.

"Please, please do not take ivermectin in place of the vaccine," Noble pleaded. "It's not approved for use and it was never developed to fight viral infections."

Chun offered an alternative to those considering ivermectin to treat COVID-19.

"Vaccines," Chun said. "Billions, literally, billions of people have taken the vaccine. Vaccines are the best hope."

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