Even as chloroquine shows potential for treating COVID-19, doctors warn caution needed

Denise Dador Image
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Doctors say caution needed in drug treatment for COVID-19
While a malaria drug has shown some potential for treating COVID-19 patients, doctors are warning that caution is necessary and it has yet to be proven effective on a large scale.

There have been reports that doctors across the country are seeing some success in treating COVID-19. Some patients are receiving a combination of a malaria drug, an antibiotic and zinc.

Dr. Anthony Cardillo said he has seen very promising results with a small group of patients, but he also warns that it's still experimental, not widely-tested and much caution must still be used.

Christine Antoccia has been taking hydroxychloroquine for three days. She is part of a hospital clinical trial in Utah.

"I actually have the drug in my hand," she said, "It's 200 milligrams and I started taking quite a bit actually."

The drug has long been used for the treatment of malaria and conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

The evidence on its efficacy for COVID-19 is spotty at best, but many doctors across the nation are prescribing it under an emergency use authorization.

The FDA is asking doctors to use their best judgment.

Dr. Cardillo with Mend Urgent Care in Sherman Oaks says using hydroxychloroquine with zinc appears to be working in the handful of patients he has prescribed it to.

"It was actually the hydroxychloroquine opening up a channel in the cellular membranes allowing zinc to come into the cells," he said, "And we do know high levels of zinc inside of the cell that's infected with the virus shuts down that viral replication machinery."

He also gave patients azithromycin, an antibiotic most of us know as a Z-pack, to treat possible subsequent bacterial infections.

Of the 95 patients who have tested positive under Dr. Cardillo's care, five had symptoms serious enough for him to prescribe the combination treatment. All were outpatient.

He said, "The other 90 people did very well on their own. No treatment whatsoever."

He says chloroquine should not be taken as a preventative and it should not be given to people with mild symptoms. For some it can cause an irregular heartbeat that could be dangerous.

"This regimen has to be used on a hospital level, it has to be managed by physicians for people who are getting very sick," he said. "The basic tenet or principle of medicine is to do no harm."

Common side effects include: headaches, nausea, diarrhea and hair loss.

Christine Antoccia has experienced the first three. "I was extremely nauseated Saturday," she said, "Headaches like migraine headaches."

Antoccia said her symptoms of shortness of breath and coughing are under control. She says other people with symptoms need to act quickly. "If you feel sick, go and get tested," she said. "If you have the ability to get tested, get tested."

Cardillo said so far all the evidence we have is still anecdotal. Nothing has been peer-reviewed.

It's important that chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine only be prescribed to the people who need it most so that those with autoimmune conditions who also need the drug can still have access to it.