Doctor's Note: Hydroxychloroquine - will it cure you or kill you?

Doctors warn against serious, sometimes fatal, side-effects from general use of the drug being promoted by Donald Trump.

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    A woman holds a sign listing 'COVID Cures', including hydroxychloroquine, at a protest against coronavirus restrictions in the US state of Massachusetts [Reuters/Brian Snyder]
    A woman holds a sign listing 'COVID Cures', including hydroxychloroquine, at a protest against coronavirus restrictions in the US state of Massachusetts [Reuters/Brian Snyder]

    US President Donald Trump announced this week that he is taking hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic against the coronavirus despite medical warnings against its general use.

    Trump's statement was met with shock from the medical world as the drug has not been proven to be effective against the coronavirus and, more so, has some very dangerous side effects.

    An announcement like this is a dangerous green light to Trump supporters and those who are desperate to try anything to help reduce their risk of catching or developing complications from the coronavirus.

    At least one American already died in March after taking chloroquine phosphate - usually used to clean fish tanks - to try to avoid contracting the virus.

    The man's wife told US media that they learned about chloroquine - a similar drug to hydroxychloroquine - after watching a Trump news conference during which he promoted the use of the drug.

    On Monday, Trump promoted the drug again. "I'm taking hydroxychloroquine," he told reporters. "I've been taking it for the last week and a half. A pill every day."

    But hydroxychloroquine should only ever be taken when prescribed by a doctor and under close supervision.

    Serious, possibly fatal, side-effects

    The drug is most often used to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis; a patient is started on it only upon the advice of a specialist.

    Treatment with hydroxychloroquine requires regular blood tests to check on a patient's kidneys and liver as the drug can have adverse effects on both.

    Mild side effects from the drug include headaches, dizziness, loose stools and stomach cramps.

    However, there are far more serious side effects.

    These can include permanent eye damage leading to blindness; possibly fatal effects on your heart rhythm; hearing loss, low blood sugar, and permanent hair loss; and changes in mood, including depression and suicidal thoughts.

    It can also be fatal in children if they accidentally swallow any amount and must absolutely be avoided by pregnant women as it can be passed on to the developing baby.

    Hydroxychloroquine can also interact with many medications that are commonly used to treat diabetes, heart problems and epilepsy.

    The US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) is looking into clinical trials using hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for patients in hospital with severe coronavirus symptoms.

    But so far, there has been no conclusive evidence of benefit, and their website states that up until now hydroxychloroquine "has not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19".

    In April, the FDA also said it was "aware of reports of serious heart rhythm problems" in patients with COVID-19 who were treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine.

    Despite Donald Trump's boasts about using hydroxychloroquine, the overwhelming majority of doctors and scientists around the world would strongly advise against it - including me.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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