Recent media reports have claimed that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine—oral prescription drugs traditionally used in prophylaxis and treatment of malaria and other inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and lupus—are being administered to COVID-19 patients in many countries.
The fact: There are no FDA-approved drugs for the treatment of COVID-19 and current clinical management focuses on infection prevention with certain investigational antiviral drugs; and supportive care with supplementary oxygen and mechanical ventilation. Both the antimalarial drugs in question have exhibited in-vitro activity (in an environment isolated from their usual biological surroundings, such as the human host cell in this instance) against Corona viruses, notably the SARSCoV (cause of the 2003 Coronavirus outbreak) and the current SARSCoV 2.
Of the two drugs, hydroxychloroquine is reported to have a relatively higher antiviral activity against COVID-19. According to a study in China, COVID-19 patients treated with chloroquine showed significant clinical benefits as compared to the control group. That being said, there is no clear scientific evidence to prove their effectiveness as clinical trials on these as well as several other therapeutic agents are ongoing and results awaited. Based on anecdotal and in-vitro data and easy availability, chloroquine is being widely used in combination with the antibiotic, azithromycin. In the absence of clinical guidance on use and dosage of chloroquine, clinicians around the world are relying on reported anecdotal evidence to decide the optimal dose and duration of treatment. Although chloroquine has a known safety profile, health officials warn that it is associated with adverse events, such as cardiotoxicity (medication-induced damage to heart muscle) and needs to be used with caution in the chronically ill and immunosuppressed patients.