A Covid-positive person in Sydney was admitted to Westmead hospital suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea after overdosing on ivermectin and other drugs ordered online.
Westmead hospital’s toxicologist, Naren Gunja, said the case was part of a growing trend the hospital was seeing of people taking unproven online cures for Covid. The patient didn’t get severe toxicity from taking the ivermectin cocktail, “but it didn’t help their Covid either”, he said.
“There’s no evidence to support the use of ivermectin to treat Covid-19. Don’t look for magic cures online, and don’t rely on what’s being peddled on the internet, because none of them work.”
The New South Wales chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said on Thursday that people should only take health advice from a healthcare practitioner before taking medication.
“It is important to seek the best health advice. Our doctors in Australia are across the literature in terms of what drugs and therapies are useful in Covid,” she said. “Please listen to them.”
Ivermectin, an anti-parasitic medication, is only approved for use in Australia for medical issues such as river blindness, scabies and roundworm infections. The growing trend as an unauthorised Covid drug stems in part from its promotion among rightwing politicians and media outlets in the United States, which has flowed into the same groups in Australia.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration on Monday said there had been a shortage of Stromectol 3mg ivermectin tablets in August, and said there had been a tenfold increase in detections of people seeking to import the drug.
The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia said on Wednesday its members had noticed a rise in people turning up with prescriptions for ivermectin who were refusing to say what it was for.
People in anti-vaccination groups have been sharing information about sympathetic doctors who will provide prescriptions, ways to obtain the drug from international stores, and how to take the version of ivermectin designed to deworm livestock.
An increasing number of calls to the US poisons information hotline prompted the Food and Drug Administration to tell people not to take the drug.
“You are not a horse,” the FDA said in a tweet. “You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”
The FDA warned side-effects from taking ivermectin could include “skin rash, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain, facial or limb swelling, neurologic adverse events (dizziness, seizures, confusion), sudden drop in blood pressure, severe skin rash potentially requiring hospitalisation, and liver injury (hepatitis).
“Laboratory test abnormalities include decrease in white cell count and elevated liver tests. Any use of ivermectin for the prevention or treatment of Covid-19 should be avoided.”
Authorities in Australia, including the university behind the first lab trial of ivermectin to treat Covid-19, have stressed the drug should not be used to treat Covid-19 outside clinical trials, and people should not be self-medicating or using drugs meant for livestock.
As recently as Monday in federal parliament, independent MP Craig Kelly was calling for ivermectin to be considered as a treatment for Covid-19 in Australia.
“How have we missed the boat? This was a wonderful opportunity to showcase Australian innovation. This could have been known as the Australian treatment around the world.,” he said.
The National Covid-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce, which examines studies of the drug around the world, said in late August that “there remains significant uncertainty whether ivermectin is more effective and safer than standard care in treating patients with Covid-19”.
Gunja said Westmead had seen people presenting at the hospital after self-medicating with a range of dangerous substances including hydroxychloroquine, disinfectants, bleach and alcohols.
He said vaccination is the best and safest way to protect against severe illness from Covid-19.