Mar 22, 2010
Over this past year, we have seen numerous stories on adverse effects of topical or "spot on" flea and tick medications. Recently, a man in Texas won a court case against Hartz Mountain products after his bulldog died.
Over this past week, the EPA released their findings from the extensive survey of the more than 44,000 reported adverse events during 2008.
Bottom line is that the EPA will be asking for better label instructions, bigger fonts on labels, more pictures on labels. and, for manufacturers to narrow the weight ranges on their products. Additionally, there will be an additional investigation into the role that the "inert" ingredients may play in any toxicities.
After the EPA was able to "clean up" the submitted data of adverse reactions from the manufacturers, they found that 21 products (13 dog, 8 cat) from 8 different manufacturers accounted for about 29,000 events. (To me, this is very telling...where are the other 15,000 reactions? According to the EPA report cited above, many reports were considered inadmissable because no EPA registration number was recorded, the incident was considered generally ambiguous, the incident occurred outside the US or Canada, and there were multiple reports for the same incident).
Overall, 95-97% of the reactions were considered mild or moderate. Mild reactions are those that were minimally bothersome, had a rapid resolution and generally involved skin or eyes or mouth. No treatments were needed. Moderate cases were more pronounced than minor cases, required treatement, and could be more systemic in scope. But, these cases generally resolved without issue.
Keep in mind that 270 million doses of flea products were sold during 2008. If you co with the published number of 44,000 incidents, that is still only 1 adverse reaction for every 6,136 doses sold. If you toss out the ambigous reports (as it appears the EPA did), the incidence rate goes down to 1 reaction for every 9,188 doses and more than 95% of those were mild or moderate.
SO....to me this means that these products are generally safe.
Now...the question everyone is asking....WHOSE products caused the most issues?? Well, it turns out that answering that question is a little complex. Product sales are proprietary in nature so the EPA doesn't know how many of the 270,000,000 doses were sold by Hartz or Sergeants or Bayer or Merial. Plus, do Hartz and Sergeants have a bigger market share because they are OTC and thus we would expect more reactions (from the bigger sales)?
Furthermore, if you buy a product at Wal Mart or the grocery store, are you more or less likely to report a problem? Same thing with products from your veterinarian...
(I am starting to understand why statistics always confounded me so much in school!!)
From my limited, non-scientific research, OTC products were associated were associated with 60% of the 29,386 reviewed incidents. Veterinary channel products were associated with 40%.
BUT...here is the biggest "stat" that I came up with. If you applied the WRONG product to your pet (i.e. you put your dog's flea product on your cat), the OTC products were far more likely to cause a serious reaction or death than the veterinary channel products. Here's my proof: Of the 29,000 reports, 953 came from OTC products applied to the wrong species and 927 came from veterinary products applied to the wrong species. So, pretty equal numbers. BUT...227 severe reactions or deaths were associated with OTC products (almost 24%) compared to only 39 severe reactions or deaths with veterinary products (about 4.2%).
To me..this is HUGE. It shows the value and the importance of having your veterinarian be part of the process in deciding what product to utilize.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions...for example, did the reports of veterinary products (Advantage, Frontline) causing problems come from purchases online or in over the counter markets or from veterinary offices? We know that counterfeit flea products have been a problem in the past, but would that be reflected in the adverse effects reports?
Here's your tip for the day...when you need to choose a flea product (and most of us do at some point), talk with your veterinarian!! He or she understands your your pets risk factors, the local flea population and what product would work best for you.