Chloroquine as treatment for COVID-19: What you should know

It is likely that you have read or heard about chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine for prevention or treatment of COVID-10 infection. As there have been instances of people finding and ingesting non-pharmaceutical grade chloroquine phosphate, we wanted to provide a warning to our patients and the community that this should NOT be done under any circumstances. Unfortunately in one report of a couple who ingested chloroquine phosphate designed to be used in aquariums, both became very ill. One person died before arrival to the hospital and the surviving person was in critical condition for several days with cardiac and gastrointestinal complications. The CDC has reported that online sales of these non-pharmaceutical grade products has been increasing significantly, which raises concern that people may be planning to ingest them.

Unfortunately at this time, there are no medications that have been FDA approved for prevention or treatment of COVID-19. Pharmaceutical grade chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulfate are currently being studied as treatment for COVID-19 infection, however the efficacy of these drugs has not been established. These drugs are used to treat autoimmune diseases like Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis, as well as malaria prevention and treatment. They do have well known side effects such as cardiac arrhythmia (specifically prolonged QT interval), retinopathy (damage to the eye), gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea/vomiting/diarrhea, and blood count abnormalities. More serious neurological symptoms have been noted (usually at higher doses) such as seizure, dystonia (repetitive muscle contractions), tremor, and ataxia (incoordination of movement and speech). Therefore, these medications should only be taken if prescribed by a doctor and should always be taken at the dose prescribed.

We understand that this is a scary time, and that people want to feel like they have something more definitive that can help prevent or treat COVID-19. However, we urge you to follow your common sense. Please do not take medications that were not prescribed to you. Please follow the instructions of medications you are prescribed. Please do not ingest non-pharmaceutical products. Please continue to wash your hands thoroughly and often, try to avoid touching your face, and follow stay-at-home orders/social distancing to protect your family and the people in your community.

-Meghan Garcia, MD



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