An Arizona man has died and his wife is in critical condition after the couple took chloroquine phosphate in hopes to guard themselves against the coronavirus.
Instead of taking a prescription form of chloroquine phosphate used to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, the pair apparently ingested a form of the drug used to clean aquariums.
The deceased man’s wife told NBC News that she watched televised news conferences in which Trump touted chloroquine phosphate as a potentially effective treatment for coronavirus.
“I had (the substance) in the house because I used to have koi fish,” she told NBC News. “I saw it sitting on the back shelf and thought, ‘Hey, isn’t that the stuff they’re talking about on TV?'”
The woman said that they took the chemical because they “were afraid of getting sick.”
Misinformation and fear
The incident is one example of what can go wrong when ordinary people concerned for their personal health and safety during the coronavirus pandemic make decisions driven by misinformation, fear, and supply shortages.
Trump recently proclaimed that the common malaria treatments chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine could become “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine” if used to treat COVID-19-related illness.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and several other medical groups and professionals agree that that the chemicals are worth testing further to treat the coronavirus, but not even the president’s own advisers share his enthusiasm for them.
The government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told reporters in a recent news conference that he didn’t find evidence of the drugs as an effective treatment for COVID-19 convincing. He repeatedly called the evidence “anecdotal” when asked by reporters. “It was not done in a controlled clinical trial. So, you really can’t make any definitive statement about it.”
Trump then stepped forward to add: “We’ll see. We’re going to know soon.”
“This is insane!” Gaetan Burgio, an Australian National University expert on drug resistance, tweeted in response to Trump’s claims, according to Science. He noted that there are potential flaws in the six-day French trial on which the president based his claims. Most of the professionals on the president’s pandemic response team are also critical of the French study.
Dr. Daniel Brooks, medical director of the Poison and Drug Information Center at Banner Health, where the Arizona couple were taken, warned people against self-medicating.
“Given the uncertainty around COVID-19, we understand that people are trying to find new ways to prevent or treat this virus, but self-medicating is not the way to do so.”
A shortage of the chemical formulation used to treat parasites in fish tanks indicates that other people may be buying the substance to self-medicate or to keep it on hand in the event they develop coronavirus symptoms.
There is also a severe shortage of the pharmaceutical formulation of the drug, much of which is made in India and China. India has banned manufacturers from exporting chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, and some doctors have started hoarding both drugs by writing prescriptions for themselves or family members, according to Science.
Some U.S. patients who take the drugs for rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and other legitimate medical purposes have been told their prescriptions will not be refilled as federal and state authorities start stockpiling the drugs as a potential coronavirus treatment.