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Mississippi officials warn against using anti-parasite drug to treat COVID amid uptick in calls to poison control

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The Mississippi State Department of Health issued an alert Friday warning against using an anti-parasite drug to treat or prevent COVID-19. The alert came as calls to the state poison control center have increased, with at least 70% being related to ingesting ivermectin — a drug commonly used for livestock.

"I certainly would strongly recommend people not take any medicine from a feed store or a veterinary source," Mississippi Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said Wednesday at a COVID-19 briefing. "It can be dangerous."

Ivermectin is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat humans with intestinal complications caused by parasitic worms and for topical use to treat conditions like head lice and rosacea. The drug is also commonly used to prevent heartworm disease and other parasites in animals. Ivermectin is not approved or recommended by the FDA to treat or prevent COVID-19 in humans.

Back in March, the FDA published an advisory warning people: "Never use medications intended for animals on yourself. Ivermectin preparations for animals are very different from those approved for humans." 

The FDA reiterated that warning Saturday after a growing number of incidents of people harming themselves by ingesting it. "You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y'all. Stop it," the agency tweeted.

Side effects associated with taking ivermectin include skin rash, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, facial or limb swelling, dizziness, seizures, sudden drop in blood pressure, coma and even death, the FDA reports.

Of the callers to Mississippi's poison control center, 85% had mild symptoms, and no hospitalizations have been associated with ingesting the drug, according to the health department's alert. One resident was instructed to seek further evaluation due to the amount of ivermectin they ingested. 

"You wouldn't get your medical treatment, you wouldn't get your chemotherapy at a feed store," Dobbs said. "I mean, you wouldn't treat your pneumonia with your animal's medication. It can be dangerous to get the wrong doses of medication, especially for something that's meant for a horse or a cow."

The health officer urged individuals to work with their primary care physicians and recommended eligible residents get vaccinated with one of the three vaccines authorized by the FDA: Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna. 

Mississippi, which has the second-lowest vaccination rate in the country, is in the midst of a record-breaking fourth wave as the Delta variant spreads across the state. As of Thursday afternoon, 5,048 new COVID-19 cases had been reported in the state, according to data from its department of health, and only 8.25% of intensive care unit beds are available statewide. Of those ICU beds, 59.87% are being used to treat patients with COVID-19. 

"We are clearly at the worst part of the pandemic that we've seen throughout, and it's continuing to worsen," Dobbs said. 

He issued an order Friday which threatened fines and/or jail time for residents diagnosed with the virus who do not isolate at home.  

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