Chloroquine Poses Fatal Heart Risk

Doctors are scrambling to find treatments for COVID-19. The novel virus doesn’t respond to treatments that usually work for other coronaviruses. Many hoped the anti-malaria drug chloroquine could fight the virus. It is approved for treating malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. However, a small study to see the drug’s effectiveness has been halted after seeing that it posed a serious risk to heart health. People have heard a lot about the drug, the name has been thrown around without much information. One married couple took a form of chloroquine intended to clean fish tanks to try and treat themselves for COVID-19. The husband died. Some doctors have been using other forms of it to treat the virus, but the new study may stop that.          

The study used 81 hospitalized patients in Brazil but was cut short because of deaths. “The limited sample size recruited so far does not allow to show any benefit regarding treatment efficacy. However, the trend towards higher fatality associated with the higher dose by day six of follow-up resulted in a premature halting.” Because of the high death rate, the official find was that a dose high enough to possibly fight COVID-19 can be fatal.

Half the patients were given 50-milligrams of chloroquine twice a day for five days. The others took 600-milligrams once a day for 10 days. The people given the higher dose suffered from irregular heartbeats, known as arrhythmia after three days and 11 died by day six. The doctors stopped administering the drug at that point. The patients were all taking azithromycin, an antibiotic which can also cause arrhythmia.

Unfortunately, because of the small size of the study, doctors couldn’t determine if the lower dose could help people with severe COVID-19. Because the people in the study were already severely ill, it’s hard to tell precisely what problems came from chloroquine, azithromycin or COVID-19 itself. When the study is so small, and the disease is so new, there are many different factors. But it was too dangerous to continue. The researchers say they need studies on the drug’s impact on people who are in the early stages of the disease. It might be that the people in the study were too ill to have benefited from the drug.

China has prescribed patients with 500-milligrams twice a day for 10 days. This new research shows that it may be hazardous. Dr. Marcus Lacerda, one of the scientists behind the Brazilian study, said that “The high dosage that the Chinese were using is very toxic and kills more patients.”

Everyone wants a drug to treat COVID-19. In the absence of new medications or a vaccine, older medications must be used. However, much like the hope that pneumonia vaccines could be used to protect people from catching the disease, it seems that chloroquine may not be the solution we hoped it would be. Doctors and researchers are working tirelessly to treat people and find the right treatments for patients.

In the meantime, the best thing we can do when it comes to COVID-19 is to protect ourselves from catching it. Social distancing, face masks, frequent handwashing and not touching your face can prevent you from contracting the virus. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Banner Image: Mx. Granger, Wikimedia
April 16, 2020

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