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Bellevue doctor: ‘It just flies against all logic’ to trust unproven treatments for COVID

Nurse Nick Brideau (L), from the ICU COVID unit, wheels a patient towards Nurse Karen Hayes as the patient is transferred to the acute care COVID unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Ivermectin is a drug prescribed to humans and animals to treat parasitic worms, head lice, and skin conditions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved it as a COVID-19 treatment.

The Washington Poison Center reports at least 10 people in our state have been treated for problems related to ivermectin being used off label to try to prevent or treat COVID.

At the same time, one of the top trending stories this week has been that Joe Rogan, a popular podcaster, has COVID after he did some live shows in Florida. He said on his show that they “threw the kitchen sink at it,” including ivermectin.

Dr. Richard Kaner is an internist with Bellevue Medical Partners and, among other things, he treats patients who have infectious diseases. If his patients ask him about ivermectin, his advice is avoid it.

“The short version of the advice is to avoid it,” he told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show. “Basically, ivermectin is an anti-parasite medication. And there are different types of infections — there’s bacterial, there’s fungal, there are viral, parasitic. So, without going into the weeds on that, ivermectin is aimed at parasites and it’s used largely in cattle and horses.”

“Recently, with much acclaim, there have been applications in humans to treat head lice and some parasitic infections, but it has absolutely no documented activity against a viral infection of any type, much less COVID,” he added.

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Dr. Kaner also pointed out that it’s worth going directly to the company that would stand to make the most from patients using ivermectin.

“If you look at what Merck has posted — and they’re the ones that are going to make the profit — they’ve made a couple of statements on their website,” he said. “First, they said there’s no scientific basis for any effect against COVID-19. And the follow up statement they made is that there’s a concerning lack of safety data, concerning ivermectin.”

“So I don’t know what else to say, but that’s that’s how I would counsel my patients,” Kaner said.

Uphill battle against misinformation

As far as being a doctor today and trying to work against the misinformation that’s out there, Dr. Kaner admitted that it’s exhausting. Anyone can go online and find someone who backs up their claim, but that doesn’t mean it should be trusted.

“I don’t have thousands, much less millions of Instagram or YouTube followers,” Kaner said. “I don’t have Spotify contracts. And so when people send me these 20-minute YouTube videos and say, ‘What about this guy? He sounds credible.’ You have to then give a thoughtful response. … And it’s going back to one person. I don’t know if they share it, or they don’t share it. But I can’t keep up with the misinformation.”

“We just try to consistently put out the best science that we can review and access to our patients,” he added. “But, yes, it’s a little bit of an uphill battle. We’re over a year and a half into this. It’s pretty tiring and people are getting kind of chewed up and burnt out.”

Dangers of using ivermectin

Aside from ivermectin not being proven to be effective in treating or preventing COVID, it also has some serious side effects.

“If it doesn’t kill you, or put you in a coma, or give you a seizure or hallucinations, then hopefully you would just get some of the lesser side effects like vomiting and diarrhea,” Kaner said. “Now, if you get through all that, then I guess you can determine whether this parasite drug is helping your COVID infection, except I’m not sure how you would distinguish that.”

“It just flies against all logic,” he added. “And it’s just disheartening that these ideas get such legs and they’re absorbed so quickly and people take them at face value. And that they value the opinion of Joe Rogan … over some of the best scientists that are working to exhaustion trying to understand this virus.”

Show host Ursula Reutin played a clip in which Joe Rogan on his own show said he’s not a doctor and not a respected source of information. He, himself admits that people should not be listening to his medical advice, but yet he has a very powerful platform and people listen.

Natural immunity versus vaccine immunity

There is also misinformation circling about things like whether your natural immunity makes you immune. If a patient has already had COVID, Dr. Kaner’s advice is that they should absolutely get the vaccine.

CDC: How COVID-19 vaccines work

“The idea of natural immunity versus the immunity coming from the vaccine is kind of rooted, in large part, out of some information coming out of Israeli studies,” he said. “But that information was observational. It wasn’t a controlled setting. It was based on a very small number of hospitalizations.”

“They looked at nine hospitalizations to draw these conclusions that getting the infection was better for you than if you got the vaccine,” he explained.

Dr. Kaner did note that there are side effects to the vaccine. There is also a chance of re-infection whether you’ve been vaccinated or if you’ve had COVID-19 before. That said, it’s a lot less likely that someone dies from vaccination than dies from COVID-19.

“If you take a million people and vaccinate them, you may get one death from the process of vaccinating. But if you take that same million people and give them COVID, you’re going to have 10,000 plus deaths,” he said. “It’s not even close.”

“Plus the fact that there’s an old axiom in medicine that one study does not make science,” he said. “And this is an observational study. It’s not reviewed by peers, et cetera. And there are already other studies coming out of the U.K. and Denmark that’s basically showing equal efficacy with protection, and you don’t have to risk death to get the protection.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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