WHY ARE MALARIA DRUGS UNDER CONSIDERATION?
Because of lack of proven treatment, the Covid-19 patients are largely receiving only supportive care such as breathing assistance. On its website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says some US clinicians have reported anecdotal use of hydroxychloroquine at different doses. Chloroquine is a synthetic form of quinine, which is found on the bark of the cinchona plant. Both drugs, which have serious side effects if used incorrectly, are used to combat malaria, which is caused by a parasite spread through mosquito bites, because they interrupt its ability to digest a host's blood cells. Scientists have detailed biochemical proprieties of chloroquine that indicate it could be used against some viral infections. These include direct antiviral effects, such as blocking steps needed by certain viruses to replicate, and its ability to suppress production and release of proteins involved in inflammatory complications of several viral diseases. In addition to malaria, hydroxychloroquine is also used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
WHAT DOES THE DATA SAY?
Data has begun to emerge from some coronavirus trials, but most information so far is preliminary. A French team last week said initial results from a 24-patient trial of hydroxychloroquine showed that 25% of patients given the drug still carried the coronavirus after six days, compared with 90% of patients given a placebo. But the trial is small and results on patient outcomes are still awaited. Chinese researchers last month reported trial results showing that chloroquine treatment of COVID-19 patients had clinical and virologic benefit versus a comparison group. It has been added as a recommended treatment for the illness in China, where the virus first emerged in December. This week, the Journal of Zhejiang University reported disappointing results from a 30-patient Shanghai study of hydroxychloroquine. It showed the drug worked no better than standard care for patients with COVID-19.
Health officials caution that no one should be taking these drugs to treat or prevent coronavirus infection without medical supervision and a prescription. In Arizona, a man died and his wife was hospitalized after taking a nonmedical form of chloroquine used to fight parasites in aquariums.