Roughly half of the calls to the state’s poison control center are in reference to questions and concerns from those who have self-medicated against COVID-19 using a horse and cattle dewormer called Ivermectin, Mobile County Health Department epidemiologist and Director of Disease Surveillance Rendi Murphree said during a Facebook Live briefing on Friday, Aug. 27.
“Calls to poison control have more than doubled from people taking Ivermectin intended for cows and horses, not humans,” she said.
The information comes as the area has again seen a slight uptick in the number of hospitalizations. Mobile County is back up to 429 COVID-19 related hospitalizations, Murphree said.
In many cases, Ivermectin is being used as treatment for COVID-19. While the Pfizer vaccine is fully Food and Drug Administration approved for protection from the virus that causes COVID-19, Ivermectin has no such approval, although the FDA’s website said the formulation designed for human consumption is currently being tested for use to fight the disease.
Lagniappe has previously reported an uptick in useage of Ivermectin has caused a nationwide shortage. Local feed stores have reported an increase in sales, especially for the injectable version of the dewormer.
Pediatric cases of COVID-19 are increasing statewide, State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said, as 5,571 school-aged children were infected with COVID-19 during the week starting on Aug. 21. It’s unclear if all those kids aged 5 to 17 were in classrooms.
“That’s a 700-percent increase compared to this time last year,” he said. “Many schools are struggling to keep doors open. To help keep schools open, we need everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated, especially teachers.”
Harris said “universal masking” in schools is also very important to help schools.
“We are continuing to ask schools to identify cases and get them taken out of the classroom,” Harris said. “That includes the students who are ill and those in close contact.”
Baldwin County reported 640 total cases, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health K-12 dashboard. Mobile County was marked as unreported on Monday, Aug. 30.
The push to limit cases in schools comes as the state reported 45 hospitalizations in pediatric patients, Harris said. Of those 45, five were on ventilators. As a whole, the state still has 40 more patients requiring intensive care unit staffed beds than staffed beds are available. Harris said this works out to 1,602 ICU patients and 1,562 available ICU beds in the state.
In some cases, Harris said, this is resulting in ICU patients being cared for on gurneys in hospital hallways.
The strain on the system, Harris said, has resulted in ADPH sending two of its four morgue trucks to Mobile and Baldwin counties.
“It’s the first time we’ve deployed them in the pandemic,” Harris said. “We are really in a crisis situation. We need people to understand that you yourself — if you’re hearing these words — are the one who can make a difference. You need to do what it takes to not continue this situation. I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be able to do this.”
Those with a higher risk of complications from COVID-19 can get the disease treated with monoclonal antibodies at a number of providers, Harris said. The treatment has been available in Alabama since February, he said.
The state is trying to increase the number of providers who can perform the treatment, Harris said, although it is not fully FDA-approved. Six hospitals in the state, many in our area, are currently negotiating with a federal vendor to provide the treatment.
“We think monoclonals are terrific,” Harris said. “It’s about 60 percent to 70 percent effective at preventing hospitalizations, but it’s not a substitute for vaccination. Monoclonals are a great option to have, but they represent a secondary option. We want everyone to get vaccinated.”
Vaccination among Alabamians is increasing, but the state still lags behind many states when it comes to those fully vaccinated. About 2.3 million people in the state have received at least one jab, while 1.7 million are fully vaccinated.
“Less than 30 percent of those aged 12 to 17 are vaccinated,” Harris said.
Those who are vaccinated are still much less likely than those unvaccinated to contract the disease. So called breakthrough cases make up about 18,360 of the almost 2 million cases statewide. Of the 1,230 deaths since April 1, Harris said, only 9 percent were fully vaccinated and many of those patients were elderly or had underlying health issues.
“So much of what we’re seeing is preventable,” he said. “We’re seeing it because people don’t want to change their behavior or get vaccinated. It’s very frustrating.”
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