Stop Saying Ivermectin Causes Sterility (& Other Liberal Misinfo)

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Last week I dug into *why* people are eating horse deworming paste instead of getting a safe, free, effective vaccine that will almost certainly prevent them from developing a debilitating illness. That video really took off, leading to me getting a lot of follow-up tips.

First of all, on September 3rd Rolling Stone published this article titled “Gunshot Victims Left Waiting as Horse Dewormer Overdoses Overwhelm Oklahoma Hospitals, Doctor Says.” And I mean, come on. Obviously that is the most American headline ever written, so this link was always going to tear its way across the internet immediately. Trending on Twitter, front page of Reddit. Doing whatever things do on Facebook.

And I saw it, of course, because many of you sent it to me and also because it was everywhere and I am always on the internet, and I was confused because the research I did for that previous video suggested that it was actually kind of difficult to overdose on ivermectin. Like, yes, people were pooping out what might be bits of their intestinal lining and that is NOT GOOD, but it’s also not a sign of impending death. So it seemed to me unlikely that horse dewormer ODs are clogging up hospitals in the middle of a pandemic where COVID patients are the ones who are filling up all the beds. But I’m not an expert, and people ARE very very stupid sometimes, and I’m sure it’s POSSIBLE to OD on horse dewormer, so I figured okay, maybe these particular Oklahomans just went really hard on the ivermectin. Maybe there was a Tulsa horse dewormer chugging party that went terribly wrong. If pub quizzes still existed “Tulsa Horse Dewormer Chugging Party” would be my team name.

Anyway it seemed weird so I didn’t retweet it, but instead of looking into it further I just shrugged and moved on.

But! Luckily other people were not quite so casual about this as I was. The day after the story was published, Ed Cara (a great Twitter follow) posted a correction from a hospital saying that the doctor quoted by Rolling Stone hadn’t worked there for two months and they hadn’t treated any ivermectin overdoses at all. But weirdly, the article doesn’t even mention that hospital. Ugh, fine, at that point I decided to look into it.

So, Rolling Stone didn’t actually do the interview with Dr. McElyea. Turns out, that was done by local Oklahoma News 4, and you can see his interview here

Rolling Stone quotes him in their subhead saying “The ERs are so backed up that gunshot victims were having hard times getting to facilities where they can get definitive care and be treated, Dr. Jason McElyea said.” He DID say that, but then goes on to say this:

“And some of the examples of patients we’re seeing that are causing a backlog are such as people taking horse doses of ivermectin or other medications related to that. They’re suffering from the side effects of people taking doses meant for a horse.”

He says some people are coming in after taking too much ivermectin. It’s not that they’re flooding the hospitals, it’s just that this is yet another group of people adding to a system already stressed out by people refusing vaccines and then catching COVID. And he doesn’t mention a specific hospital, so the fact that one hospital says “we haven’t treated any ivermectin-related cases” doesn’t mean anything. SOME hospitals probably have. Not all hospitals, everywhere.

Sooooo ivermectin ODs aren’t overwhelming hospitals. Ivermectin ODs may be adding to hospitals already overwhelmed by COVID.

But wait, there’s more! A lot more of you sent me the news that ivermectin sterilizes 85% of the men who take it. Sigh. Fine, let’s read the study.

This is a Nigerian study on patients with river blindness, and I’m so sorry to tell you this but river blindness is a truly horrific condition that is endemic mostly in sub-Saharan countries, and it is caused by worms in your eyeballs. You get it by getting bit by a fly that has the worms. As you may have learned in my previous video, ivermectin specifically attacks nerve cells found in invertebrates, so the treatment for river blindness is to take ivermectin once a year for ten to 15 years.

So. The “85%” figure comes NOT from this study linked in the tweet but from a reference to a “report” the authors mention. Their citation of that report isn’t written correctly so I had to go searching for it, and in doing so I found another curious person who found the same thing. Because this is the internet, I must refer to him as “Falcon Darkstar.” Falcon…Mr. Darkstar…points out that the Journal of Biomedical Investigation wasn’t published until 2003, but the reference points to 2002. He couldn’t find any similar report and I can’t either. So sorry, but we have to throw out the 85% idea unless and until we see a real study on it.

The actual study linked looked at 385 patients with river blindness, which would be a great number of subjects to have, so it’s unfortunate that they dismissed 90% of them for various reasons like “too low of a sperm count already,” leaving them with a scant 37 subjects. Of those, they found that for various reasons, 60% of the patients lost fertility after taking ivermectin. And that’s it! A handful of men experienced a drop in fertility, but we don’t know for how long, or why, or if this is just a statistical blip due to having so few subjects in the study. And, knowing that the authors couldn’t even cite a report from a journal that existed at the time they say it was published, are we really confident in the rest of their data?

There are studies that suggest ivermectin can limit fertility in animals, like this one that was correctly cited by the Nigerian study. In “An Investigation of the Effects of Ivermectin on Blood Serum, Semen Hyaluronidase Activities and Spermatological Characteristics in Sheep” the authors concluded that “the use of ivermectin is not suitable during ramming season.” So that’s helpful.

Is it possible that a bunch of dipshits are making themselves infertile by eating high concentrations of horse deworming paste? Absolutely. Do we know for sure? Absolutely not. We’d need more research done, and I suppose if this madness goes on for much longer there will be plenty of subjects to include.

And while it is a fun dunk to say these people are winning Darwin awards by doing something stupid that interferes with their ability to reproduce, it’s not all that funny when you think of the estimated 21 million people who are just trying to kill the worms that are living in their eyeballs through no fault of their own. Ha ha, worms made you blind and the cure will make you infertile! Take that!

So think twice before you retweet a hilarious story just because it confirms things you already decided you want to be true. This dystopia is bad enough as it is.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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