The drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have been in the news recently, associated with COVID-19 or the coronavirus. At Missouri Poison Center, we want to clear up some of the myths surrounding these drugs and give you the facts.
It is important to note, first of all, that taking chloroquine from non-pharmaceutical grade sources without a prescription is extremely dangerous. That means that, if you have acquired this drug from a source other than your physician, you should not take it.
Additionally, the efficacy of this drug in treating COVID-19 has not been established. While studies are being conducted, there is simply no evidence at this time that taking this drug will either cure or help you avoid the coronavirus.
Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine have a Number of Adverse Side Effects
Hydroxychloroquine and its associated drug, chloroquine, are sometimes used to treat malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. However, the FDA has not approved the drug to treat the coronavirus.
Both medications have a variety of well-known adverse side effects. So, it’s important to consider certain factors and remind your physician of any underlying illnesses before you consider taking this drug. Additionally, non-pharmaceutical formulations of chloroquine or prescription chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine taken outside of medical supervision can be especially dangerous. If you take chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, you run the risk of experiencing the following:
- Genetic predisposition: Individuals who have inherited G6PD deficiency may have a serious reaction to hydroxychloroquine. It should be used with extreme caution in people with prolonged QT syndrome or who are on medications for heart rhythm problems as the addition of chloroquine/hydroxychloroquine can increase the risk for fatal dysrhythmia. Azithromycin, which has been suggested by some to be used in combination with hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID, may also cause prolonged QT syndrome increasing the risks of this problem.
- Adverse effects for the general population: Some patients taking hydroxychloroquine may experience nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea. They may also experience headache and dizziness. Irritability, tremor, and even changes in mood have been reported. Hydroxychloroquine may also interfere with drugs used for the treatment of diabetes and produce a drop in blood sugar causing symptoms. People with type I or type II diabetes should be aware of this possibility.
As with any drug, allergic reactions may occur. These medications have a narrow therapeutic window, meaning that accidental ingestion of amounts that exceed recommended dosing can be extremely dangerous with toxicity, and can result in serious symptoms, including:
- Cardiac dysrhythmias
- Low potassium levels
- Cardiac arrest or death
Even a single pill can be potentially life threatening to a child. Under no circumstance should this drug be given to children without the advice of a physician.
Do Not Take These Medicines without Directions from Your Physician
While chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have demonstrated benefits for multiple chronic autoimmune and rheumatologic diseases, the benefit for treatment of COVID-19 has not been definitively established. It is critical that any use of these medications is coordinated with a treating physician with full understanding of the potential risks and benefits.
The Missouri Poison Center would like to remind the public to practice medication safety. Store medications high up and out of reach of children. If possible, store medications in a locked box. Take medications while leaning over a sink in case of a dropped pill and not in front of children. If pills are spilled, sweep and vacuum and perform a pill count if possible.
If you have questions about or feel you are having an adverse reaction to hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, or any other medication, please contact the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 for advice. Our trained pharmacists, nurses, and medical toxicologist are standing by to help.