Iowa health officials warn against heartworm drug for COVID-19

Iowa Department of Public Health has issued a "rumor control" message against the use of a heartworm medication to treat COVID-19.

The Iowa Department of Public Health is attempting to counter the spread of misinformation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the agency doesn’t often attempt to debunk rumors or false claims made about public-health issues, the threat posed by COVID-19 has generated more than the usual amount of  misinformation and unfounded speculation, particularly on social media.

On Friday, the IDPH felt obligated to set the record straight regarding one potentially dangerous “home remedy” for the virus.

Under the heading “Rumor Control,” the agency wrote on its Facebook page: “Don’t take heartworm medication to prevent or treat COVID-19. Ivermectin was used in COVID-19 research conducted in a petri dish, not in people. Ivermectin sold for animal use is just that — for animals, and can cause serious harm if taken by people.”

Department spokeswoman Polly Carver-Kimm said the agency has “done a variety of these ‘rumor control’ posts,” but added that she’s not aware of any Iowans using ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19.

The department’s advisory follows a similar notice from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.

The center said on April 10 that it had recently become aware of increased public interest in the antiparasitic drug ivermectin after the announcement of a research article that described the effect of ivermectin on SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — in a laboratory setting.

“These animal drugs can cause serious harm in people,” said Dr. Steven Solomon, director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine. “People should not take any form of ivermectin unless it has been prescribed to them by a licensed health care provider and is obtained through a legitimate source.”

In March, an Arizona couple ingested chloroquine phosphate, believing the product, most commonly used to clean fish tanks, could prevent COVID-19. The man subsequently died, and his wife was hospitalized.

The woman said she had heard President Donald Trump mention hydroxychloroquine during his White House press briefings and realized she had chloroquine phosphate on hand because of her fish.

“I saw it sitting on the back shelf and thought, ‘Hey, isn’t that the stuff they’re talking about on TV,’ ” she told NBC.

Although clinical trials have not verified hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness as a treatment for COVID-19, Trump has publicly stated “it could be a game changer” treatment for the virus, asking rhetorically, “What have you got to lose?”

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.