A man in Arizona has died and his wife left in an ICU after taking chloroquine phosphate, believing it would protect them from COVID-19, following a tweet from President Trump.
Last week, the president tweeted to his millions of followers about an untested (and potentially dangerous) drug combination being a game-changer in fighting the new coronavirus, something that people have apparently interpreted as instructions to individuals, not researchers or clinicians.
This death follows two people in Lagos, Nigeria being hospitalized with chloroquine poisoning after Trump praised the drug.
At a press conference on Thursday, March 19, Trump said chloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, and hydroxychloroquine had a "real chance" of working against the virus and would be made available "almost immediately" having been approved by the FDA. "We're going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately. And that's where the FDA has been so great. They've gone through the approval process – it's been approved," he said, reports BBC News.
Unfortunately, this wasn't true. The FDA later clarified: "There are no FDA-approved therapeutics or drugs to treat, cure or prevent Covid-19." Though there is anecdotal evidence chloroquine has helped COVID-19 patients, there have been no clinical trials or peer-reviewed studies yet. It has, however, been approved for "compassionate use", meaning a doctor can prescribe it to patients who are terminally ill, when there are no other treatment options, which is not FDA approval for a medicine.
Chloroquine is being put to clinical trials to test whether it is safe and effective against the virus, but until then taking drugs without suitable medical supervision is not recommended. Especially for drug combinations that are potentially dangerous. If you end up in a hospital because you experimented with drug combinations, you are also putting a strain on already strained resources.
Trump also shared an article with his millions of followers from the New York Post about a man with a confirmed case of COVID-19 claiming hydroxychloroquine "cured him".
However, as the article itself points out, the patient said doctors gave him a list of reasons why he shouldn't want to take the drug including the lack of trials and testing, and believe the episodes he experienced when he felt better were not a reaction to the medicine but his body fighting off the virus.
Scientists and medics alike have warned Trump that his talk about potential treatments is dangerous. During normal times it's not a good idea, but during a global pandemic, when people are scared and might try to self-medicate, it can be deadly.
Sure enough, the man in his sixties in Arizona died and his wife has been left in critical care after they bought and ingested chloroquine phosphate, thinking it would prevent them from contracting the disease, NBC reports. Neither of them had COVID-19 when they took the substance.
The substance they took was not the chloroquine medically prescribed for malaria, but chloroquine phosphate, a parasite treatment for fish. The woman who didn't want to be named told NBC she had previously used it to treat her koi fish and remembered seeing it on her shelf and thinking "Hey, isn't that the stuff they're talking about on TV?"
The couple was self-isolating and concerned about contracting the virus when they saw clips of Trump talking about chloroquine at the press conference. "We saw Trump on TV – every channel – and all of his buddies saying that this was safe," she told NBC. "Trump kept saying it was basically pretty much a cure."
Within 20 minutes of ingesting the compound, they became extremely ill, vomiting and experiencing respiratory problems. Her husband died shortly after arriving at the hospital.
Health experts are warning to not take any medication without proper medical advice and supervision, and not follow the advice of those without medical training.
"Given the uncertainty around COVID-19, we understand that people are trying to find new ways to prevent or treat this virus," Dr Daniel Brooks, medical director of Banner Poison and Drug Information Center, said in a statement. "But self-medicating is not the way to do so."
In essence, wait for clinical trials to prove medication safe and effective, then for the FDA to approve it, and in the meantime: