Federal regulators issued a health alert on Saturday, warning against the use of non-pharmaceutical chloroquine phosphate to treat COVID-19.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Health Advisory was issued March 28, after chloroquine phosphate killed one person and severely injured another who took the chemical believing it could protect them from contracting the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Chloroquine phosphate used without a prescription and not under the supervision of a doctor can lead to severe side effects, including death, the CDC warns. When used inappropriately or overdosed, the medication can lead to severe toxicity, including cardiac rhythm disturbances, such as prolonged QT, severe hypokalemia, cardiovascular collapse, seizures, coma, and death.
Two individuals, a husband and wife in their 60s, took non-pharmaceutical versions of chloroquine phosphate, in the form of fish tank cleaner, after hearing President Donald Trump describe the chemical as a possible treatment for COVID-19. The husband died after arriving at the hospital, and the wife was critically ill with severe gastrointestinal symptoms and cardiac conduction abnormalities.
The wife reported to the media that they ingested the product to prevent infection with COVID-19 because they saw information on the medical use of chloroquine on television, specifically statements made by Trump. The couple feared getting sick and decided to take the substance.
The product they used was powder form inside a 2.2 lb container and labeled “for Ornamental Fish Use Only.” Within 20 minutes of taking the chemical the couple became extremely ill and began vomiting and experiencing respiratory problems.
Chloroquinephosphate and hydroxychloroquine are chemicals used in home aquariums and commercially available for purchase at stores and on the internet. There are unconfirmed media reports that the aquarium chemicals may be out of stock due to potential increased demand by the public because of statements made by government officials. However, there is currently no pharmaceutical products approved by the FDA to treat or prevent COVID-19.
Furthermore, pharmaceutical chloroquinephosphate is approved by the FDA only to treat specific medical conditions, including malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Doses of the chemical can be toxic at levels not much higher than those used for treatment, which increase the risk of accidental overdose greatly, the CDC warns.
Chloroquinephosphate and hydroxychloroquine are being studied as treatment for COVID-19, but there is no confirmed information the chemicals can treat the disease and those studies are in the beginning phases.
President Trump defended his statements concerning the drug indicating people are dying and facing serious consequences either way.
The CDC warns doctors and public health officials to discourage the public from misusing non-pharmaceutical chloroquine phosphate because of the severe side effects.
There were more than 122,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Unites States as of March 29, with more than 2,100 deaths and the illnesses continue to climb. Globally, COVID-19 cases have reached nearly 723,000, sickening people in nearly every country and killing more than 33,000 people.