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Coronavirus

What Is Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) & What Is It Used For?

Dr. Pragnya Rao

Hydroxychloroquine is used to treat malaria and certain autoimmune conditions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the healthcare community together in contribution to various research programs to develop faster testing kits, explore treatment options and to promote recovery- most important of all being the need to urge citizens to practice social distancing and self-quarantine

Of late, Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and Chloroquine, two antimalarial drugs have made headlines amidst speculations of helping in the recovery of COVID-19 infected patients. However, misinformation about the drugs has spread quickly and needs to be tackled so you understand what the current scenario is. 

What is HCQ?

Hydroxychloroquine, a derivative of Chloroquine is an antimalarial drug, also used for the treatment of autoimmune conditions like Rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus. 

How does it work?

  • HCQ reduces immune response, hence reducing the impact of damage caused by immune cells to the body tissues.
  • Coronavirus elicits an exaggerated immune response which leads to the destruction of lung epithelium. Extensive damage can cause pneumonia and requirement of external respiratory support. It is assumed that HCQ alleviates this reaction. 
  • However, there is no concrete proof that HCQ can cure or prevent a coronavirus infection. Hence, it is not an antidote or vaccine and must not be used for self-medication. 

Are there any harmful side effects?

  • There are plenty of side effects such as skin rashes, retinal damage, corneal opacity, myopathic and neuropathic effects. Additionally, it can cause an adverse drug reaction that may be severe and sometimes even fatal.

HCQ and COVID-19: What are the developments?

  • A study in France showed improvement in the condition of patients who were hospitalised and were on Hydroxychloroquine in combination with Azithromycin. The combination also helped in the recovery of two patients from New Jersey, who were admitted to the ICU. Other drugs used for HIV and breast cancer have also shown similar effects.
  • Recognizing that HCQ can have the potential to improve a patient’s condition who is suffering from SARS Co-V, the FDA approved the drug for emergency use for the pandemic. Stockpiling of antimalarial drugs Hydroxychloroquine and Chloroquine began in US pharmacies amidst Trump’s tweet and encouragement from healthcare authorities.
  • However, in Arizona, a man died from ingesting a wrong form of Chloroquine, a fish tank cleaning chemical while his wife is critical. They self-administered the product owing to the fear of coronavirus, due to the absence of adequate knowledge and a doctor’s advice.
  • In India, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has made two important announcements until now:
    • Hydroxychloroquine can be prescribed in guided dosages as a prophylactic measure to high-risk populations including asymptomatic healthcare workers and household contacts of positive cases, although it has also been said that it is not the definitive protection, protocols and precautions have to be followed as before.
    • For the larger safety of the general population and to prevent its misuse, HCQ is now a Schedule H1 drug- it cannot be procured without a doctor’s prescription.==
  • Additionally, India has been supplying HCQ to other countries including the USA for testing benefits in confirmed cases and for usage in healthcare workers.

What is the takeaway?

  • DO NOT ENGAGE IN SELF-MEDICATION as HCQ is not a cure nor does it prevent a coronavirus infection. 
  • Speak to a doctor or consult online if you have any doubts or health concerns.
  • Patience is key. Various randomized trials to test the potency of HCQs and other drugs have begun- only time will tell us if they are efficient or not.
  • Place your trust in researchers, scientists and medical experts. Do not believe everything you may receive on a Whatsapp forward or social media. Infodemics can spread misinformation and can cause panic too.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a huge global challenge and we must do our best in maintaining calm, following necessary precautionary measures including lockdown and avoid stepping out of our houses. Social distancing is our best shot at containing the spread of COVID-19 and flattening the disease curve. Speak to a doctor on MFine if you have doubts or if you notice any symptoms of the infection.

If you have any health concerns for yourself or your family, you can now speak to top doctors online on our platform. You can also take the free COVID-19 self-assessment to know your risk of contracting coronavirus infection. In case you’re experiencing symptoms like sore throat, cough, fever, or breathing difficulty, get your symptoms assessed by top doctors on your phone on the MFine app.

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