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Can an anti-malaria drug cure COVID-19?

Posted On: April 13, 2020

Can an anti-malaria drug cure COVID-19?

It seems each day brings new confusion, rumours and developments in the ongoing situation with COVID-19. Most recently there has been a lot of buzz concerning two drugs: chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which some are claiming could be a cure for the novel coronavirus.

What is Hydroxychloroquine and why am I hearing so much about it?

Hydroxychloroquine is a drug used to treat malaria, as well as arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune conditions. Its exact mechanism of action is unknown, but it is used to reduce pain and joint swelling in rheumatic arthritis as well as reducing the risk of long-term disability.

Generally speaking, hydroxychloroquine is well tolerated: side effects usually include nausea and diarrhea. However, in people over 60, it can cause visual problems and even loss of vision.

Other serious side effects include:

  • Sensitivity to light
  • Uncontrolled movements
  • Lack of coordination
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Bleeding
  • Confusion & Strange thoughts
  • Seizures
  • Abnormal heart rhythms

The drug had shown some promise as one of many drugs tested on COVID-19 patients in China.

So why all the hype?

Media frenzy spread quickly around the drug, fueled by celebrity endorsements. Everyone weighed in: Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, conspiracy theorist Charlie Kirk, Elon Musk and, inevitably, Donald Trump all spoke up on Twitter about the “miracle cure.” Doctor Oz also appeared on Fox News to promote the drug.

But where are they getting their information?

One of the main sources is a French study by a Dr. Didier Raoult, a man Dr. Oz has called “very impressive”

But the study itself was so flawed as to be practically unserviceable. One flaw was the small sample size of 36 people, 6 of which were not included in the final results. Click here for a full break down of the flawed scientific method involved.

Dr. Raoult has previously made headlines for controversial statements about climate change and Darwinian evolution.

A pinch of salt

So, it sounds like these guys are hacks right? A climate-change denying doctor, a cardiac physician who twice won the “Pigasus Award for Refusal to Face Reality” after promoting psychic healing, and a president who makes fact-checkers want to rip out their eyelids. Not people you should be taking medical advice from.

In fact, this advice has already harmed at least two people. An Arizona couple in their 60’s were admitted to hospital recently after ingesting fish tank cleaner that contained hydroxychloroquine. They believed that taking it could prevent them from catching COVID 19 The husband tragically died, and the wife was put into critical care. What they didn’t know is that the hydroxychloroquine they ingested was in a different (and fatal) form.

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Trials are still ongoing…

That is not to say however that hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine are completely ineffective against Sars-COV-2. In fact, very recently the NIH has begun clinical trials on these drugs. The difference here is that these trials are properly controlled and will be using a much larger sample group.

As well as this the FDA has issued an Emergency Use Amendment, meaning Hydroxychloroquine and Chloroquine can both be used on COVID-19 patients off-label.

Professional opinions on its efficacy are still divided. More recently, a Brazilian study into chloroquine was halted after patients taking higher doses developed abnormal heart rhythms.

So, there is some evidence that it can be useful in treating patients who already have COVID-19, along with a host of other drugs that are being tried. However, it is NOT in any way a vaccine or preventative measure.

There is also some fear about panic buying of the drug. Patients with arthritis and lupus which are treated with these drugs are concerned about a shortage in supply. In India, hydroxychloroquine has been made available via prescription only to prevent supplies running out.

The Risks

It should also be noted that, while the only current COVID-related hydroxychloroquine death was due to the formulation in fish food that does not mean that hydroxychloroquine is by any means a safe drug to take without supervision.

The overall message is that there just isn’t enough data to draw a conclusion about this drug just yet. Since no large-scale clinical studies have deemed it conclusively safe and effective you should absolutely not take this drug unless told to do so by a doctor.

While there is only a 1% chance of it occurring, there is still a chance of sudden cardiac arrest from taking Hydroxychloroquine. Furthermore, the drug is often combined with the antibiotic Azithromycin (a combination recommended by the President himself) which increases the risk of cardiac arrest.

You should not attempt to take these drugs to treat or prevent COVID-19 symptoms by yourself.

Trials are still ongoing and according to the NIH it has shown the ability to modify immune responses and exhibit antiviral activity. The drug is not without risks as even short term use can cause cardiac arrythmias, seizures, dermatological reactions, and hypoglycemia.

The drug has shown some promise in lab testing on Sars-COV-2. And if it proves an effective treatment in halting this new pandemic then millions of lives could be saved.

However, it is imperative to wait on official rulings.

Don’t risk harming yourself. Don’t take drugs away from people who need them.


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