Coronavirus: Shortage concerns mount as malaria drug hits headlines as possible COVID-19 treatment

Chloroquine, a malaria drug, is garnering attention after President Donald Trump mentioned it as a promising treatment against COVID-19.

But that has raised concerns amongst many physicians as the drug is also a treatment for several diseases, including lupus and arthritis, and many fear shortages may occur.

Dr. Anuradha Seshadri, a physician with UCLA Health, said the drug is already becoming scarce.

"It's become stressful, and quite unfortunate. Because I do have a few number of patients who have autoimmune disorders and lupus that are out there trying to find the refills for these medications and they can't," she said. "We're trying to reach out to other pharmacies, and patients are reaching out to their rheumatologists. It's just all very unfortunate."

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Another similar drug is hydroxychloroquine.

"Chloroquine was a medication used primarily to treat malaria, and hydroxychloroquine is a derivative in the same family, used for prevention of malaria but also used to treat and suppress flareups in conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis," Dr. Seshadri said.

Doctors are also concerned about people who aren't prescribed the drug trying to take it.

There can be serious side effects and it can be dangerous, medical professionals say.

"There are side effects that include vision changes, and there are other effects that can speed up your heart and change the way that your heart actually beats. So, it's quite dangerous," Dr. Seshadri said.

In terms of treating COVID-19, Dr. Seshadri notes, "We still don't know what's the dosage, how to take it or for how long it should be taken. So more research needs to be done."

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