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Hydroxychloroquine and Covid-19: What You Should Know

by Skye Sherman - March 24 , 2020


Photo Credit: by Daniel Foster, flickr.com
Photo Credit: by Daniel Foster, flickr.com

Disclaimer: In this article, we’ll examine the current research and information available surrounding hydroxychloroquine and Covid-19. This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Instead, we dive into the research and news swirling around this potential coronavirus treatment in order to increase education about hydroxychloroquine and other potential cures.

Ever since news of the coronavirus outbreak, also known as Covid-19, was released to the world, the focus of the public and leading authorities everywhere has turned to finding a cure. Whether that comes in the form of a vaccine, which may take a year or more to develop, or another form of treatment, people are desperate for a way to prevent unnecessary suffering and loss of life.

Staying home and watching Netflix is a pretty easy way to save the world. As world leaders implemented the need to practice social distancing and self-quarantine at home, we’ve all banded together to stop the spread by rearranging our lives to work from home, avoid contact with others, and make the most of social distancing.

However, these drastic measures take a toll on the normal routines of everyday life, causing the stock market to plummet and the economy to seem precarious, with layoffs and uncertain futures in store for millions of people around the world. The virus, which targets the respiratory system, can have fatal consequences.

The ideal solution would be if scientists could discover a cure, vaccine, or easy method to prevent coronavirus, or at least a drug or treatment to help the elderly and immunocompromised to survive Covid-19 if they do contract it. We must manage the pandemic as it spreads, but if we could find a way to stop the virus in its tracks or help the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the virus to heal, our recovery will be much swifter. Those watching President Trump’s daily press conferences, especially the one televised on March 23, may feel that a potential cure is just around the corner. He is hopeful about the potential of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine to be used in treating Covid-19.

While the drug seems somewhat promising so far, could hydroxychloroquine really be the one-size-fits-all solution to wiping out coronavirus once and for all?

Could Hydroxychloroquine or Chloroquine Work to Treat Covid-19?

It’s possible that hydroxychloroquine could be the Covid-19 cure the world has been searching and praying for, but according to the information we have so far, it’s too soon to tell.

In a recent press conference, Trump stated that he “feels good about” the potential of hydroxychloroquine being able to treat coronavirus. He also stated that hydroxychloroquine shows “tremendous promise” for treating Covid-19. On March 21, President Trump tweeted, “HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine.” Hydroxychloroquine is classed as an anti-malarial drug while azithromycin falls into the category of antibiotics.

Are these claims backed by science? Not quite yet.

The FDA states, “While there are no FDA-approved therapeutics or drugs to treat, cure or prevent COVID-19, there are several FDA-approved treatments that may help ease the symptoms from a supportive care perspective. The FDA is working closely with innovators in their work to expedite these efforts, including leveraging scientific information about the virus and trials currently being conducted in other countries such as China, Japan, South Korea and Italy as well as in the U.S.”

Researchers are working hard to find a cure, treatment, or vaccine that could relieve the impact of Covid-19, but nothing is approved or available yet.

The Intelligencer states, “Studies currently in-process also suggest that chloroquine and its derivatives could be effective in treating the coronavirus. One study … found that hydroxychloroquine — considered less toxic than chloroquine — and a drug called remdesivir were effective in stopping COVID-19 spread in vitro. … while doctors in China, South Korea, and France report that chloroquine regimens appear to help patients, they still need extensive and controlled studies to determine if they would work at scale.”

President Trump’s statements, which are intended to spark hope in people around the world, could be interpreted as misleading.

Edinburgh News explains, “President Trump explained that the drug has already shown ‘very encouraging early results’ and that the plan is to make the drug available ‘almost immediately.’ Trump also mentioned that the Food and Drug Association (FDA) fast-tracked the approval process for the drug, taking it ‘down from many, many months to immediate.’

“Despite President Trump’s statements making it appear the drug had been approved by the FDA for coronavirus treatment, that is not yet the case. The FDA stated that they are working closely with government agencies and academic centres to investigate the use of the drug to determine if it can be used to treat patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19.”

Other drugs being studied for their potential therapeutic benefits include remdesivir and convalescent plasma and hyperimmune globulin. According to TechStartups, Dr. Vladimir Zelenko has also found success with a three-drug regimen of Hydroxychloroquine Sulfate, Zinc, and Azithromycin (Z-Pak), which “he used to effectively treat 699 coronavirus patients with 100% success.”

Why Not Try Using Hydroxychloroquine Now?

Both hydroxychloroquine and a similar drug, chloroquine, are typically used in the prevention or treatment of malaria. Many patients with autoimmune disease like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis also rely on this life-saving drug on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, as a reaction to Trump’s statement, people began hoarding and trying the drug to see if it would work for them. The drug is also known as Plaquenil, its brand name.

An article in ProPublica states, “Trump’s push to use hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 has triggered a run on the drug. Healthy people are stocking up just in case they come down with the disease. That has left lupus patients … and those with rheumatoid arthritis suddenly confronting a lack of medication that safeguards them, and not only from the effects of those conditions. If they were required to take stronger drugs to suppress their immune systems, it could render them susceptible to more serious consequences should they get COVID-19.”

In addition, Trump’s statements are causing confusion and some premature, potentially lethal action: one couple in Arizona tried to self-medicate with what they thought was chloroquine, which Trump is positing as a potential solution, but unfortunately they made a grave mistake.

An article in NBC News shares, “An Arizona man has died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate — believing it would protect him from becoming infected with the coronavirus. The man’s wife also ingested the substance and is under critical care. The toxic ingredient they consumed was not the medication form of chloroquine, used to treat malaria in humans. Instead, it was an ingredient listed on a parasite treatment for fish. The man’s wife told NBC News she’d watched televised briefings during which President Trump talked about the potential benefits of chloroquine.”

According to Fox, these drugs also come with their own set of side effects. “The drugs have major side effects, one reason scientists don’t want to give them without evidence of their value, even in this emergency. … The drugs can cause heart rhythm problems, severely low blood pressure and muscle or nerve damage. Plaquenil’s label warns of possible damage to the retina, especially when used at higher doses, for longer times and with certain other medicines such as the breast cancer drug tamoxifen.”

Until we know for sure that these medications could save lives, it’s probably best to wait.

More Research is Required Before Doctors Prescribe Hydroxychloroquine for Coronavirus

While the current information we have available does seem promising, these drugs are not yet approved for use in treating coronavirus, and a significant amount of additional research is required. The existing results seem positive, but it’s too soon to tell or to grant widespread approval to use this drug to treat the virus.

Before chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine could be used on a wide scale, if found to be viable treatment options, we’ll need to conduct large clinical trials that determine whether or not these drugs could truly be useful in helping coronavirus patients. An FDA representative was less enthusiastic about the possibility of a quick turnaround, stating that it’s not possible to speculate about a timeline for these drugs’ availability.

In short, there are no drugs approved yet to prevent or treat Covid-19, but with the devoted attention of the world’s best scientists, hopefully a cure or therapy is just around the corner.

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DISCLAIMER

While the above article is based on thorough research, we do not claim to offer a substitute for medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider. We aim to provide helpful information to our readers, but cannot provide a treatment, diagnosis, or consultation of any sort, not even for pets, and we are in no way indicating that any particular drug is safe or appropriate for you and your individual needs. To receive professional medical attention, you must see a doctor.