The U.S President Donald Trump recently tweeted the following:
But before you get too excited, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has refuted this claim, confirming that NO DRUG has been approved so far to treat COVID-19. Yes, not even the H and the A.
Nevertheless, chloroquine and its less toxic cousin, hydroxychloroquine, suddenly rise to fame. Sadly, a man from Arizona has died from ingesting chloroquine phosphate, an aquarium cleaning product similar to drugs that have been named by Trump.
So, what are chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine? Can they really treat COVID-19?
Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are old drugs, and they have been useful in modern medicine even before the emergence of COVID-19.
Chloroquine has long been used to treat parasitic diseases, which are malaria and amoebiasis. However, as time went by, the main ‘culprit’ in malaria, Plasmodium falciparum, developed resistance towards chloroquine. As a result, chloroquine remained only as medication that is used to prevent malaria, usually given to people who are going to malaria-endemic area 1 to 2 weeks prior to the visit.
Chloroquine also can be used as an aquarium cleaning product. However, you should NOT ingest them, as the amount used in the treatment and cleaning the aquarium are different.
On the other hand, hydroxychloroquine is commonly used to treat autoimmune diseases (i.e. your immune system attacks your own body cells) such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and rheumatoid arthritis.
Image credit: FDA
They are TOXIC
Chloroquine is useful and has saved millions of lives. However, it has a caveat -- it is highly toxic. Hence, smart scientists figured out a way: they changed the chemical structure of chloroquine. Hence, we have a less toxic cousin -- hydroxychloroquine. The reason that hydroxychloroquine is less toxic it is because of the lesser amount it can stay in our body tissue, without compromising its effectiveness in treating diseases.
However, hydroxychloroquine is still toxic by any means. The consequences of intoxication include altered mental status, seizures, abnormally low blood pressure, irregular heart pumping, and eventually, death.
Image credit: The Trinitonian
Can they be used to treat COVID-19?
The short answer is: we don’t know for sure, yet. But their usefulness is promising, as demonstrated by a few successful studies [1-5]. But we need better and larger studies to further substantiate this claim. Until then, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are NOT the treatment for COVID-19.
How about azithromycin, the other medication mentioned by Trump? Well, it is likely that Mr President made his claim based on this study. However, as this study is not robust enough, the effectiveness of combining the H and the A to treat COVID-19 is still questionable.
Image credit: study.com
Questions that have yet to be answered...
Even though right now chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine seem like the good choice, but there are so many things that we do not know yet, such as: how to use the medication, how much to give to the COVID-19 patient, how long they should be taking them etc.
Nonetheless, many clinical trials on the treatment and vaccines for COVID-19 are on their way. We believe we would gain more clarity by then.
No medication has been approved so far by any drug authority for the treatment of COVID-19. U.S and Malaysia alike.
Both chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are Group B poison in Malaysia, meaning you can only get them through a doctor’s prescription. Any other channels would be illegal,
Therefore, you SHOULD NOT buy these medications from any suspicious sellers on the internet or offline.
As they are very toxic, these medications are only to be used strictly under the supervision of the doctor and pharmacist.
Cover photo credit to CTV News
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