Can The Drug Chloroquine Really Help Cure Those Infected With COVID-19?

Answered by: Dr Mohd Ramzdhan Bin Mohd Masdar
Updated on: June 2, 2020

Question:
Hi Doctor! I was watching the news the other day and came across a press conference in the United States of America by their president regarding the use of chloroquine against COVID-19. I also came across a few articles when I was curious and doing my research about the current treatment for this particular coronavirus. There it was again-chloroquine. Hence, my question is how true is the claim that this drug chloroquine is effective against COVID-19? Thank you in advance for answering my question.
Answer:
Hi and thank you for your question. I am well aware that a statement was given by President Donald Trump regarding the use of chloroquine. For your information, this drug is one of the drugs in trial to help treat COVID-19. Some have responded well to this drug and reduced length of hospital stay after being tested positive for COVID-19. However, some have no and even detrimental outcome to the use of this drug. As all drugs have their own side effects, it is not advisable for the public to try and self-medicate with this medication. To know more regarding chloroquine and the treatment for COVID-19, read the article below.

The World Health Organization declared a pandemic against COVID-19 on the 11th of March 2020 after observing an upward trend of spread and severity of the virus globally. Scientists have been racing to create a vaccine that can protect the people of the world against this potentially-fatal respiratory virus. For those who have unfortunately been stricken by this virus, scientists and doctors are working around the clock to look for a cure. The drug Chloroquine was then introduced to the whole world as THE drug by the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump in his press conference following the uprising of COVID-19 cases in the USA. Following this, a couple in Arizona took matters into their own hands and self-medicated with chloroquine phosphate, which they had on hand to kill parasites in their fish. Sadly, the husband died and the wife was hospitalised after taking treatment advice based on anecdotes which were not proven by clinical trials. Hence, the question at hand is: Is Chloroquine an effective drug against COVID-19?

Chloroquine is an antimalarial drug used to treat or prevent malaria. This drug has been approved and long been used for this purpose. Hydroxychloroquine is a more tolerable form of the drug. Malaria is caused by the parasite Plasmodium and is spread by mosquitoes.

After MERS(a type of coronavirus) in 2012, scientists were experimenting with thousands of approved drugs in search of those that could block MERS infection. They discovered chloroquine was one of the drugs that could block coronaviruses from infecting cells in vitro. However, there was not enough evidence to prove its effectiveness. Chinese, French and American researchers dug out this potentially effective drug again to test against COVID-19 given that they come from the same family of viruses as MERS. As mentioned previously, chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine are drugs against parasites. COVID-19 is a virus. So, how would the aforementioned drugs work against a virus? Researches showed that Chloroquine can change the acidity of the surface of the human cell, thus preventing the virus from infecting it. Chloroquine was also believed to stimulate the body’s immune response.

The French researchers recently came up with new data saying that hydroxychloroquine with the antibiotic, azithromycin might be more effective in battling the virus. They did a preliminary study on 80 patients and this drug combination seems to decrease viral load. However, this is insufficient proof of this drugs’ potency.

NO. You should not attempt to self-medicate with chloroquine as there are inadequate controlled clinical studies done to prove its efficacy. Besides, these drugs have numerous and in certain cases, deadly, side effects that you may experience.The use of non FDA-approved drugs carries countless concerns from side effects , toxicity, drug-to-drug interaction and other underlying medical conditions. Hospitals are still treating those affected by the COVID-19 symptomatically until a drug is approved for its utilisation against this virus.

Another potential drug which is an antiviral drug has come to light. It is called Remdesivir. It seems highly effective in preventing viruses from replicating such as SARS, MERS and Ebola. However, much more rigorous studies are needed before naming this the general treatment to COVID-19. Other drugs like Favipiravir ( an antiviral against the Japanese influenza) and Kaletra/Aluvia (HIV drugs) are in trial in certain regions of the world.

All things considered, it is best to equip ourselves with all the knowledge of preventive measures to avoid getting the COVID-19 infection. A wise man once said, “Prevention is better than cure”, and these are wise words indeed.

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