Hydroxychloroquine: The unproven Covid-19 drug

by NUR HANANI AZMAN/ pic credit: galencentre.org

MANY people have been extra cautious regarding their health since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11.

While experts encourage people to eat well, exercise and practise good hygiene, some have turned to supplements and exceeding the recommended dosages to help boost their immune system.

Vitamin C, D, probiotics and zinc flew off store shelves. As if these were not enough, people have started to self-prescribe unproven antivirals with the potential of serious side effects.

In these trying times, people are becoming paranoid, desperate and going beyond health experts’ advice in order to avoid getting infected or spreading the virus.

Scientists around the world are continuing to study two drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, as possible treatments for Covid-19.

There are early indications that these drugs may be effective, but there are also growing concerns about the impact these two drugs can have specifically on the heart.

A study in Brazil was aborted after Covid-19 patients started taking high doses of chloroquine, causing irregular heart rates and increasing their risk of developing fatal heart arrhythmia, The New York Times reported.

Roughly, half of the study participants were each given 450mg of chloroquine twice daily for five days, while the rest were prescribed a higher dosage of 600mg for 10 days.

Within three days, researchers started noticing heart arrhythmias in patients taking the higher dosage.

By the sixth day of treatment, 11 patients had died, leading to an immediate end to the high-dose segment of the trial.

Meanwhile, according to an article published on the Malaysian Society of Rheumatology (MSR) website, side effects from consuming hydroxychloroquine are uncommon. Some patients develop skin rashes, nausea, diarrhoea or headaches.

“A baseline eye assessment will be performed because very rarely hydroxychloroquine can affect the patients’ vision,” the website said, adding that if patients experienced changes in their eyesight, they must alert their doctors immediately and stop taking the tablets.

Hydroxychloroquine may also harm an unborn child. Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers or those who are planning a family are warned to discuss with a doctor before consuming it.

Hydroxychloroquine, MSR said, is an antimalarial drug which is used in the treatment of inflammatory arthritis and connective tissue diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

“In rheumatoid arthritis, it reduces inflammation in your joints and makes the disease less active, reducing pain, swelling and stiffness of joints.

“In SLE, it helps reduce skin rash. However, it does not work immediately and may take 12 weeks before you notice any improvement, or up to six months to have a full effect,” it said.

Previously, Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib (picture) advocated that the public should support science and evidence-based treatments.

“It is dangerous and possibly even fatal for the medication to be taken without prescription or supervision by a healthcare provider,” he explained.

Meanwhile, WHO reiterated that proper handwashing and social distancing remain the two most effective measures in preventing the spread of Covid-19, and far safer than taking unproven “Covid-19 drugs”.