With COVID19 rapidly spreading around the world, doctors have been hard at work searching for a treatment or cure—not only working on new medications, but testing existing medications as well.
According to recent reports, one existing drug may be useful in treating the novel coronoavirus.
This drug: Hydroxychloroquine.
Below, we’re going to take a closer look at Hydroxychloroquine, try to understand its mechanisms and how it may help deal with the coronavirus.
Hydroxychloroquine is the generic name for a drug that has been used for decades as a treatment for malaria. It is an effective anti-parasite medication that specifically targets the malaria parasites and kills them off.
It has also been used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. It isn’t fully understood how Hydroxychloroquine works for these two conditions, but it’s believed that it affects immune function and provide benefits for the autoimmune disorders.
According to a research paper submitted to Elsevier, a number of doctors in Korea have found that Hydroxychloroquine can be an effective treatment to stop the coronavirus.
The paper lays out the guidelines for treating patients using Hydroxychloroquine:
“Healthy patients with no existing disease do not need an administration of an antiviral drug, and, once physicians decide on the use of antiviral treatment, they should do so as quickly as possible.”
“If patients are young, healthy, and have mild symptoms without underlying conditions, doctors can observe them without antiviral treatment, according to the guidelines.”
“However, if patients are old or have underlying conditions with serious symptoms, physicians should consider an antiviral treatment.”
In order to treat the virus, the Korean doctors recommended using either combination medications (lopinavir and ritonavir) or chloroquine. However, due to the fact that chloroquine isn’t available in Korea, the doctors turned to using hydroxychloroquine.
The use of Hydroxychloroquine by the Koreans has led other countries to attempt to test the drug as a cure for COVID19. On March 27th, Global News reported that one seniors’ home in British Columbia, Canada, had administered the medication to some of the seventy patients (46 residents, 24 staff members) of Lynn Valley Care Centre who tested positive for COVID19. Health Canada will be closely monitoring the treatment.
However, despite this use, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control has recommended against using Hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID19—not because they believe it’s ineffective, but because there is a “lack of clinically convincing outcomes” and the supply chain of the drug is so “fragile”.
B.C.’s College of Pharmacists issued a bulletin regarding the use of Hydroxychloroquine for treating COVID19. They concluded by saying, “Pharmacists must use their professional judgment to question the appropriateness of any prescriptions they receive for these medications that are outside the usual indications. This is important to protect patients from unnecessary adverse effects and to protect the supply of these medications for those patients who rely on them for treatment of medical conditions (e.g., systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis) for which they are indicated.”
As mentioned above, the anti-malarial drug has not yet been fully studied, so it’s unclear if or how it benefits patients being treated for COVID19. One open-label study in France indicated that it might help to reduce the viral load, thereby enabling the infected body to restore immunity. However, until further data is gathered from more tests, it’s still a “maybe”.
What isn’t a maybe is the potential side effects of the drug. Some of the more common side effects include:
However, there are a few other side effects that you need to know about.
In very rare cases, the medication can affect bone marrow, decreasing the production of platelets and white blood cells, as well as causing abnormal red blood cells.
People suffering from a deficiency of a specific enzyme, G6PD, may experience ruptured red blood cells, which can lead to very serious cases of anemia. This enzyme deficiency is most common in those of African descent.
In very rare cases, eye toxicity may occur as a result of Hydroxychloroquine. This toxicity affects the retina and can lead to both loss of vision and color blindness.
Hydroxychloroquine may also worsen cases of psoriasis.
However, it’s important to note that these side effects tend to be fairly rare. The majority of people that experience negative side effects from Hydroxychloroquine will typically suffer those listed above as the most common effects.
Unfortunately, the answer is “we just don’t know”.
Research into COVID19 is still in its initial stages, which means there is so much about the novel coronavirus that doctors don’t yet fully understand. That, of course, also means that there is not much understood about potential treatments for the virus.
Studies into Hydroxychloroquine are still underway, but nothing has yet been officially published. However, with countries like Korea and Canada leading the way into using Hydroxychloroquine as a means of controlling the coronavirus, there may be some concrete scientific evidence forthcoming in the near future.
For now, as with everything else related to COVID19, we are stuck in a place of watching and waiting. Hydroxychloroquine offers a shred of hope that there is a treatment that MAY work for the virus, something that can help those already affected. For those of us who are trying to weather the storm, it’s a shred of a promise that there is hope for a future.
The best thing you can do is stay informed, but also stay safe. Focus on protecting your immune health by eating well, doing daily exercise, avoiding stress, and eating foods that boost your immune system. Avoid contact with those who might be ill and practice social distancing.
Staying isolated is the best way to reduce your risk of catching COVID19—at least long enough to give scientists to find an effective treatment for the disease, be it Hydroxychloroquine or something else.
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