The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Horse owners can’t find ivermectin as Americans flock to unproven coronavirus cure


Equine ivermectin comes in small tubes and syringes and helps eliminate “many types of worms,” often for less than $10. And lately it’s been hard to find.

Amid the recent clamor for the deworming agent — commonly used on horses, livestock and sometimes dogs and cats — as an unproven covid-19 treatment for humans, people who need to treat their horses with the substance have been faced with empty shelves and the fear that they could be mistaken for the people who are using the drug on themselves.

What is ivermectin, and how did people get the idea it can treat covid?

A syringe of ivermectin paste sold online by QC Supply, a Nebraska-based livestock supply distributor, works on pinworms, hairworms, largemouth stomach worms and more. Each syringe can treat a horse weighing up to 1,250 pounds. But the dewormer is out of stock.

Still, the product remains on the site with the warning: “For Oral Use In Horses Only.”

On the website for Fleet Farm, a livestock supply chain in the Midwest, Horse Health Equine Ivermectin Paste sells for $6.99 but is not available for online orders. It carries a prominent warning telling consumers that “these products are not safe or approved for human use.”

Some horse owners who have been able to find ivermectin in stock have seen higher prices due to “all this ivermectin craziness,” as one equine forum poster put it — and extra hurdles in buying it.

“There was an immediate frustration expressed by retailers who felt it was necessary to re-shelve ivermectin labeled products behind counters or locked in cases,” said Cliff Williamson, director of health and regulatory affairs at the American Horse Council. “Shoppers now go through extra steps to obtain equine medication.”

In Las Vegas, V&V Tack and Feed enacted a new requirement for customers trying to buy ivermectin, according to local media reports. The store posted a sign that the drug would be sold only to horse owners. “MUST SHOW A PIC OF YOU AND YOUR HORSE,” the sign read.

A supply store in Plant City, Fla., took its ivermectin off shelves, hiding it “until legitimate customers come in,” the owner of G5 Feed and Outdoor told Fox 13.

Williamson said that there were concerns from consumers that “supply will be impacted as the seasons change and most operations need access to a large quantity of dewormer products.”

Many horse owners use ivermectin “after the first hard freeze to help with bot fly eggs,” said horse owner Cindy Greely. She said that in northern Wisconsin, the price of ivermectin "has more than doubled, and it can be hard to find.”

She said she has seen stores limiting the amount of ivermectin customers can purchase, or being completely out.

One horse owner shared her frustration on TikTok, saying she felt “embarrassed” about buying ivermectin at her local feed store. “All I could think about was, people are going to think I’m eating this,” the woman said in a video posted to her account, which was filled with videos of her and horses.

“I was so embarrassed,” she said, adding that the cashier “smirked” at her. “I actually bought other horse items so people wouldn’t think that I was a nut job.” (She could not be reached for comment.)

She demanded a hospital treat her husband’s covid-19 with ivermectin. A judge said no.

Interest in ivermectin as a supposed covid-19 cure has been floating on the fringes of the Internet and conservative media for months, since a 2020 study in Australia showed that ivermectin killed the novel coronavirus in a laboratory. The experiment, however, used doses large enough to be potentially fatal in humans. The website where the study was posted now warns not to self-medicate with ivermectin.

But in recent weeks, demand for the product has surged as high-profile media figures such as Fox News host Laura Ingraham have promoted it.

When Joe Rogan, host of the popular podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience,” announced this month that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, he added that he had used ivermectin as a treatment.

The Food and Drug Administration posted a warning about ivermectin to its Twitter account, writing: “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”

Doctors dismayed by patients who fear coronavirus vaccines but clamor for unproven ivermectin

The trend has led to spikes in calls to poison control centers across the country. The Oregon Poison Center managed 25 cases involving ivermectin being used to treat or prevent covid-19 between Aug. 1 and Sept. 14, according to local reports. Five of those people were hospitalized, two in the intensive care unit.

Florida’s poison control center said it had seen a spike in cases related to ivermectin intended for livestock, moving the state’s agriculture commissioner, Nicole Fried, to issue a warning.

Fried, who had said that the shortage was a “problem” for Florida’s agriculture industry, warned in a statement to Floridians that “the promotion of inappropriate use of this drug is irresponsible, reckless and dangerous.”

“Individuals should look to their medical doctors when it comes to medical treatments,” she added, “not online quacks.”

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will likely knock out monoclonal antibodies, targeted drugs that can be used as a treatment or to protect immunocompromised people.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

For the latest news, sign up for our free newsletter.