Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have been hot topics since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. Scientists around the world are conducting important research to study these drugs, which are already used to treat known diseases and may prove effective against COVID-19.
But we’re not talking about a miracle cure! For the moment, no scientific data has been able to identify an effective and safe treatment for COVID-19. Prevention remains the only solution.
Chloroquine and its derivative, hydroxychloroquine, are commonly used treatment for malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and other inflammatory diseases. Much has been written about these drugs, since the beginning of the crisis.
The idea to use these drugs to treat COVID-19 is based on data from the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak (also caused by a coronavirus), in vitro observations (i.e., lab experiments as opposed to human testing), and results from ongoing clinical trials with hospitalized patients.
However, all experts agree that caution should be exercised before considering this treatment a cure for COVID-19.
In fact, no serious clinical study has been able to demonstrate its effectiveness in the eyes of the scientific community. Following encouraging preliminary results, more than 80 clinical studies have been registered worldwide to try to establish the drug’s efficacy in treating COVID-19.
A perfectly safe treatment?
Some early advocates of the treatment, including the U.S. president, have argued that chloroquine is widely used and safe. However, it should be noted that side effects do exist, and that administering the drug without sufficient evidence can expose patients to rare but severe adverse effects.
Furthermore, as with any medication, there is a risk of drug interactions that can have harmful consequences for patients.
In Quebec, the Institut national d’excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS) has issued recommendations on the use of this treatment. Given the uncertainty of existing scientific evidence, a chloroquine-based treatment is not recommended for patients with COVID-19, outside of a clinical research protocol.
What about self-medication?
As these drugs have long been used to treat other diseases, some people who already have chloroquine medication at home may be tempted to self-medicate. Needless to say, this is a very bad idea!
These drugs can interact with other medications, and may cause rare but severe side effects affecting the heart, liver, or skin.
Health Canada has also issued a recall concerning the risk associated with these side effects, particularly with the use of higher doses or when concomitantly taking other drugs.
Before beginning treatment, medical supervision is essential. Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, cases of serious and even fatal chloroquine poisoning have been reported due to drug use without medical indication.
What’s the best treatment? Prevention!
Since there’s currently no drug to treat or prevent COVID-19, the best way to protect yourself and others is to follow health guidelines. The importance of following the recommendations below can’t be stressed enough:
- Practise social distancing (i.e., two metres between each person)
- Wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds
- Cough and sneeze into your elbow
- Limit all non-essential travel
If you have any questions about COVID-19, or if you have symptoms such as a cough, a fever, breathing difficulty, or a sudden loss of smell and taste without nasal congestion, contact the COVID-19 helpline at 1-877-644-4545.
*This article was written with information available at the time of publication.