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Fish amoxicillin: not what the doctor ordered

February 20, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: Taking fish amoxicillin used in aquariums is the same as using amoxicillin prescribed by a doctor, just less expensive and does not require a prescription. 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Antibiotics available in pet stores have not been approved by the Federal Drug Administration and there is no evidence to say whether they are safe or effective for humans. 

THE FACTS: Although fish amoxicillin sold online and in pet stores is labeled as not intended  for human use, claims continue to circulate on social media stating that consumers can save money by opting to take the fish version of the antibiotic.

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“Same antibiotic, same pill, same manufacturer, same drug. One you have to have insurance and you gotta get a Rx from a Doctor and get it from the pharmacy. The other you can get from the pet store in the aquatic department. Thank me later,” stated one Facebook post with more than 12,000 shares. 

The FDA has not approved antibiotics available in pet stores or online for ornamental fish, Monique Richards, an FDA spokeswoman, said in an email. The federal agency cannot confirm whether the antibiotics are safe, effective or are manufactured to quality standards. 

“They may or may not contain the medicine the label claims,” she said. “Additionally, there are serious risks to taking antibiotics without a health care provider’s input. Antibiotics don’t work against viruses, for instance.”

Some drugs for fish are used for aquaculture and are approved by the FDA like catfish on a fish farm, said Mark Papich, a clinical pharmacology professor in the college of veterinary medicine at North Carolina State University. 

But Papich warns that humans taking unregulated antibiotics meant for aquarium fish can have harmful effects. 

“We have been frustrated about this for a long time,” he said, discussing people taking fish antibiotics. “We have no idea the level of potency, the quality or an expiration date. We don’t know what other types of contaminants might be in it.” 

Taking the wrong antibiotics for an infection can also lead to antibiotic resistance. 

“If you choose to use it one time, you may become resistant to a particular antibiotic, and when you use it for another infection later it may not be as effective,” said Brandon Bookstaver, associate professor and clinical pharmacist at the University of South Carolina, who is researching the human consumption of fish antibiotics and analyzing antibiotics for fish. 

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In 2017, posts circulated on Twitter showing Amazon reviews from people taking fish amoxicillin online. A search of Amazon online now shows that the products are no longer available on the site. 

Michael A. Hegener, an associate professor of pharmacy at the University of Cincinnati, said consumers could be incorrectly dosing when taking unprescribed amoxicillin as it has not been approved for humans and people could be putting themselves at risk. 

“The way they market those tablets for fish is you open it and dump the contents in water so they might say how many milligrams are in it,” said Hegener, published a paper on the human use of antibiotics marketed for pets. “The average everyday consumer won’t know those things for a human.”

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536