Over a year after first testing positive for COVID-19, Brandon Sutter is still dealing with long COVID symptoms that threaten to end the 33-year-old forward’s NHL career.
It’s a desperate situation for Sutter with few answers available. In that type of situation, it’s understandable that Sutter would grasp for any source of hope he can find.
According to an interview with Postmedia’s Ben Kuzma, Sutter’s current source of hope is ivermectin.
“Canadian doctors are not allowed to prescribe it for COVID and I had to get it myself, but it helps remove the COVID spike protein,” said Sutter to Kuzma. “It works. And in the U.S., it’s everywhere and it’s helping a lot of people and there is zero risk.
“It either helps you or it doesn’t, but 100 per cent it won’t hurt you. I can’t speak for others, but it has helped me.”
In North America, ivermectin is typically used in farm animals, though it also has uses in humans to treat parasites. There is currently no scientific evidence that ivermectin helps treat or prevent COVID-19 infection and no proof that the drug helps those with long COVID. Studies that claim it is effective have been shown to either contain serious errors or are outright fraudulent.
That hasn’t prevented groups like America’s Frontline Doctors and Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance from pushing the drug, with plenty of anecdotes on social media touting its effectiveness but very little in the way of real evidence.
But for people like Sutter suffering from long COVID with no answers from the scientific community, it’s understandable that he would latch on to these anecdotes and hope for the best.
It’s dangerous, however, to say that a drug like ivermectin has “zero risk.” Any drug can have unusual or unexpected interactions with other medications and ivermectin is no different. It’s possible to overdose on ivermectin or experience more serious reactions to the drug, including life-threatening complications.
Ivermectin also can have some serious side effects. Common side effects of the drug, according to the Mayo Clinic, include difficulty in moving, muscle pain or stiffness, pain in the joints, and swollen, painful lymph glands. Other potential side effects can include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
While Sutter said that ivermectin has helped him, he is still unable to exercise and has experienced “gastrointestinal issues.”
“I still can’t do any cardio,” said Sutter to Kuzma. “I tried working out again in March and April to kind of get going again. But I’d have a really bad day and it would just crush me — I just couldn’t do it — because of a lack of oxygen and just depleting myself. The lingering effect is an inability to breathe normally and properly.”
With Sutter experiencing such devastating symptoms that affect both his career and his quality of life, it’s easy to have empathy, particularly when there’s still so much uncertainty surrounding long COVID.
“As more people are affected by long Covid, and established, evidence-based medicine struggles to respond, the false promise of ivermectin holds undeniable allure for patients struggling to recover,” says Olivia Goldhill in a recent article for Stat News that goes in-depth into the complicated medical, cultural, and political landscape of those pushing ivermectin and the desperate long COVID patients who are searching for any answer they can get.
"It is increasingly being marketed for long Covid, pushed by physicians with ties to political groups spreading anti-vaccine and anti-science messaging," says Goldhill. "There’s no credible evidence that supports ivermectin’s use for this purpose, and doctors at long-hauler clinics say they frequently see patients who’ve tried the drug without relief."
One of the issues is that scientists are still not entirely sure what causes long COVID. One theory speculates that blood clotting is to blame. Another suggests that the virus stays in the body and causes long-term issues. A third suggests the immune system itself is at fault, gone haywire in response to the virus.
But even in the midst of that uncertainty, taking a drug that is unproven to help long COVID cannot be described as “zero risk.” Sutter pairs that drug with conspiracy-laced thinking regarding COVID-19 vaccine.
While he insists that he is not an anti-vaxxer, Sutter claims that his first and second dose of vaccine “made things worse” and says, “had I known what I know now, I wouldn’t have got vaccinated for at least a year.”
There is no evidence that vaccines cause long COVID or make long COVID symptoms worse. Indeed, there is some preliminary evidence that vaccines can be used as a treatment for long COVID and one study found that vaccines administered after testing positive for COVID-19 reduce the likelihood of long COVID symptoms.
Sutter’s experience with long COVID is heartbreaking but it does not mean that his claims should go unchallenged. As much as Sutter claims that ivermectin works and has zero risk, those claims are entirely unsupported by scientific evidence.
After the initial publication of his interview with Sutter, Kuzma spoke to Dr. Brian Conway from the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, who was blunt about ivermectin in the updated article.
“This is a toxic medication that has absolutely no place in the treatment of COVID-19,” said Dr. Conway. “My biggest concern is this is an issue that was studied early in the pandemic and it physically doesn’t work against COVID. A disease like long-COVID can improve over time, but people will sometimes want things to get better and it’s the placebo effect of you really wanting it to work.
“We all want Brandon Sutter to get completely better and waiting for things to get better on their own would be difficult. But Ivermectin has been studied and discredited.”