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Two people in New Mexico died recently after taking ivermectin, a drug typically used to treat livestock for parasites which has not been recommended to fight COVID-19, health officials announced last week.

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The two people, who were not identified, died after being hospitalized with ivermectin toxicity, Dr. David Scrase, acting cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health, said Wednesday. The patients included one who was dealing with a serious COVID-19 infection that required them to be on a ventilator and on dialysis.

“The ivermectin was basically taken in lieu of or instead of effective treatments,” Scrase said. “It’s a serious issue. We need to watch it.”

The deaths came after state officials announced earlier this month that they were investigating what was suspected to be New Mexico’s first fatal ivermectin poisoning, the Las Cruses Sun News reported.

Ivermectin has been touted by some as a possible treatment for COVID-19. However, health officials, including the Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Association, the American Pharmacists Association and several others, have urged people not to take the drug, which has not undergone a clinical trial to determine its efficacy against COVID-19.

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Last month, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in an advisory that they were seeing a rise in calls to poison control centers in which callers reported overdoses or adverse effects after taking ivermectin. In New Mexico, officials reported 14 ivermectin-related calls to the state’s Poison Control Center between Aug.6 and Sept. 21. Scrase said Wednesday that officials were fielding one or two ivermectin calls each day, about a doubling of what they had been seeing in the previous week. He added that officials saw two problems with using ivermectin to treat COVID-19.

“One, it can be toxic,” he said. “Two is that while people are pursuing – perhaps they’re at home and they have symptoms and risk factors, and they’re obtaining a veterinary ivermectin prescription and trying that to control their COVID-19, they’re missing on proven treatments from randomized clinical trials.”

Ivermectin is not an anti-viral medication. It is typically used to treat animals for parasites although smaller dosages can be prescribed for human use to treat parasitic worms, head lice or skin conditions like rosacea, according to the FDA.

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Health officials have urged people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to best protect against the viral infection. Research has shown that vaccinated people can still spread the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus, the most common one in the U.S., although officials said the vaccines still protect well against serious or life-threatening cases of COVID-19.

As of Monday, 42.9 million COVID-19 cases have been reported across the U.S., resulting in more than 688,000 deaths, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. Globally, more than 232 million COVID-19 cases have been reported, resulting in 4.7 million deaths, according to the university.