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Supporters who believe ivermectin can treat Covid-19 unfazed by ill effects; HSA warns self-medicating with drug can be dangerous

SINGAPORE — People who support the use of ivermectin to treat Covid-19 have dug their heels in even after a woman who took the drug fell ill and was hospitalised. They continue to believe that the drug works and said that they are not worried because the drug has a “good safety record”.

Supporters who believe ivermectin can treat Covid-19 unfazed by ill effects; HSA warns self-medicating with drug can be dangerous

The mother of Ms Vanessa Koh Wan Ling was hospitalised (left). Ms Koh said her mother self-medicated with ivermectin (right) on the urging of her friends.

  • Supporters of ivermectin are now casting doubt on what caused a woman to fall sick and be hospitalised after taking it
  • The woman was urged by friends to take the pill, an anti-parasite drug, to protect herself from Covid-19
  • Some people who use or support the use of ivermectin said they are not affected by news of the woman’s case
  • HSA said ivermectin is not an anti-viral medicine and is not approved for use to prevent and treat Covid-19
  • Anyone convicted of illegally selling it can be fined up to S$50,000 or be jailed for up to two years, or both

 

SINGAPORE — People who support the use of ivermectin to treat Covid-19 have dug their heels in even after a woman who took the drug fell ill and was hospitalised. They continue to believe that the drug works and said that they are not worried because the drug has a “good safety record”.

Last Sunday (Oct 3), Facebook user Vanessa Koh Wan Ling said that her 65-year-old mother was hospitalised after taking ivermectin, an anti-parasite pharmaceutical drug, having been urged by her friends to use it to protect herself from Covid-19.

Supporters of the drug are now casting doubt on what caused the woman to fall sick, saying it was likely that she was having side effects from the first dose of a Sinopharm vaccine that she took on Sept 23. They have left messages of their contrary views on several Telegram chat groups and in the comments section of Ms Koh’s Facebook post.

On Tuesday after news of the woman’s case made the rounds, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) issued a statement on its website to state again that ivermectin is not an anti-viral medicine and is not approved for use to prevent or treat Covid-19.

Self-medicating with the drug can be dangerous, with side effects that include vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain and liver injury (hepatitis). Ivermectin can also interact with other medications such as blood-thinners, it said.

There have already been reports of patients requiring hospitalisation after self-medication with ivermectin, it added.

Since Ms Koh highlighted her mother’s predicament on social media on Sunday, there have been close to 2,000 comments left on her post.

Some Facebook users accused her of blowing things out of proportion, or questioned her about how she came to the conclusion that her mother was suffering from side effects of ivermectin, saying it could be side effects from the Sinopharm vaccine or from other drugs if she has pre-existing medical conditions.

Others wrote to insist that ivermectin is a treatment for Covid-19, or that the mother could be one of the “unlucky” few to be allergic to the drug, or that the drug that she bought was not authentic.

In one reply to the torrent of comments, Ms Koh said that since her mother received her first vaccine shot, a friend had “persistently” asked her mother “every day” if she had side effects yet, and sent her anti-vaccination messages on the consequences of getting vaccinated.

However, every day, her mother replied to the friend that she has had no side effects from the Sinopharm vaccine she took, Ms Koh said.

TODAY had reached out to Sengkang General Hospital, where the woman is under observation, to ask about her condition and the cause of her illness.

Due to patient confidentiality, the hospital was unable to give any information.  

Ivermectin cannot be bought over the counter here and only via a prescription when used to treat parasite infestations in humans such as head lice.

Ms Koh wrote on Facebook that based on her mother’s phone messages, the transaction for the pills was “done via Telegram in an anti-government chat” group.

She also said that her mother has been receiving messages with weblinks to anti-vaccination or anti-government articles and videos “daily”.

‘NOT WORRIED AT ALL’

Ms Iris Koh, 45, is the founder of a group called Healing The Divide. On its website, the group states that it brings together Singaporeans concerned about Covid-19 vaccines.

Ms Iris Koh said that she has been given ivermectin by friends and would take the drug if she thinks Covid-19 is “getting out of hand”.

“Or if I am going to be interacting with many people, I may start the prevention protocol. I currently spend very little time interacting with people face to face, so I'm still not worried.” 

In March, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that ivermectin should be used to treat Covid-19 only in clinical trials and that evidence on its effectiveness against the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus causing Covid-19 was “inconclusive”.

In its statement on Tuesday, HSA also said that to date, there is no scientific evidence from properly conducted clinical trials to prove that ivermectin is effective against Covid-19.

A study in Singapore done by the National University Health System last year did not find any evidence suggesting that ivermectin has any effect on Covid-19 either.

Ms Cheryl Lee, 62, a social entrepreneur, told TODAY that she has been taking the drug for more than three months as a “prophylactic” to prevent catching the disease and she gets her supply from a seller in India.

“Last weekend, I reluctantly took my first dose of Sinopharm because I want to travel soon and not be restricted in my movements. Otherwise, I am confident that ivermectin will protect me from being infected and from severe Covid-19,” she said.

One man, who did not wish to be identified, said that he had taken just one pill of ivermectin “to see if there are any side effects” and there has been none.

He said that he is “not worried at all” even though people have been hospitalised from self-medicating on the drug.

“Ivermectin has been used on humans for the past 40 years,” he added.

Another prospective ivermectin user here, who wanted to be known only as Syn Jae, 27, is also not worried due to the drug’s “extensive safety track record”.

PENALTIES FOR ILLEGAL SALES

In her Facebook post on Sunday, Ms Vanessa Koh said that after taking ivermectin, her mother was vomiting, had nausea, dizziness and severe joint pain, could not walk and stand, and other symptoms.

She said that her mother’s friends whom she knew from church had convinced her to take ivermectin to “purge” Covid-19 and its vaccine out of her system.

The chat group she saw on her mother’s phone was selling 1,000 pills of ivermectin for S$110 in 3mg or 12mg. 

TODAY reported last month that there are people here buying ivermectin online.

HSA said: “Consumers are strongly advised not to self-medicate with ivermectin and to consult their doctor for proper treatment of Covid-19.

“HSA takes a serious view against those engaged in the illegal sale and supply of medicines, including ivermectin, and we will take strong enforcement action against such persons.”

Anyone convicted of illegally selling ivermectin can be fined up to S$50,000 or be jailed for up to two years, or both, under the Health Products Act

Responding to TODAY’s queries, the National University Hospital said that it has not seen patients requesting ivermectin or being admitted after taking it.

Other public hospitals did not respond to TODAY’s queries by Wednesday. These included KK Women's and Children's Hospital, Singapore General Hospital, Changi General Hospital, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

Among the private hospitals, Thomson Medical Centre and Farrer Park Hospital said that they have not had any patients admitted for conditions related to ivermectin side effects. Mount Alvernia Hospital declined comment.

In the United States, The New York Times reported that prescriptions for ivermectin have risen sharply in recent weeks, jumping to more than 88,000 a week in mid-August from a pre-pandemic baseline average of 3,600 a week.

It was also reported that hospitals and poison control centres across the US are treating a growing number of patients taking the drug, including hospitalisations and those who have had “altered mental statuses”.

Some people in the US have bought the drug from veterinary supply stores and possibly consumed it in large doses meant for livestock.

The US Food and Drug Administration said on its website that it has not authorised or approved ivermectin for use in preventing or treating Covid-19 in humans or animals. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NAVENE ELANGOVAN

Editor's note: The article's headline has been edited to make clear the health risk of self-medicating with ivermectin.

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Covid-19 coronavirus ivermectin HSA coronavirus vaccine social media

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