Poison Control Centers Warn Against Using Chloroquine To Treat COVID-19

Amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, poison control experts are warning consumers not to self-medicate with chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine drugs that have not been prescribed by a doctor, due to the risk of severe and life threatening side effects.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers issued a press release (PDF) on March 25, warning consumers about the serious health risks that may result from taking chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine if it is not medically approved by their doctor. The warning came after a recent spike in sales of the drugs, as people across the nation attempt to self-treat against the coronavirus.

The warning comes after an Arizona man died and his wife were critically injured after taking chloroquine in the form of fish tank cleaner, believing it would protect them from coronavirus.

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Recently, experts have suggested chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine may be an effective addition for the treatment of COVID-19 in some patients, based on past outbreak treatments used to fight off the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). However, despite recent suggestions by some within the medical community that these drugs could be effective against COVID-19, they are still considered experimental and should only be used under close supervision of a physician under a trial basis.

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.

Chloroquine phosphate use without a prescription and not under the supervision of a doctor can lead to severe side effects, including death. 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.

Poison Control experts say recent media attention surrounding chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, led to a surge in prescriptions for the chemicals, and has created a shortage for patients being treated for rheumatologic disorders, who are unable to obtain their medication.

Some reports indicate chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are currently being given to some confirmed positive, hospitalized COVID-19 patients that have mildly severe symptoms with severe lung complications, or moderate to severe symptoms of the disease. However, these patients have been medically evaluated to make sure they have no pre-existing medical conditions which would exclude them from taking the drugs.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recently warned doctors and public health officials to discourage the public from misusing non-pharmaceutical chloroquine phosphate because of the severe side effects.

There are currently 190,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States,  with more than 4,000 deaths. Globally, COVID-19 cases have reached nearly 900,000 illnesses and more than 44,000 deaths.

Last week, the FDA issued a safety warning about fraudulent COVID-19 test kits, after identifying several firms marketing and selling products with claims of being able to prevent, treat, mitigate, diagnose or cure the coronavirus.

To date, there is no cure or home test kit for the COVID-19 disease. Any vaccine is likely months away, and the only test kits are those used at healthcare facilities and testing centers, and have been deployed with the close supervision and assistance of the FDA.

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