Pittsburgh Poison Center warns against use of chloroquine, home remedies to treat coronavirus

The Pittsburgh Poison Center joined doctors nationwide Tuesday in urging people to steer clear of ingesting any form of chloroquine, concocting a home remedy or raiding a shared medicine cabinet under the misguided notion that doing so might prevent or treat covid-19.

Chloroquine, in particular, is a drug used to treat severe cases of malaria that can have dangerous and potentially fatal effects — “even under the best of circumstances,” said Dr. Michael Lynch, medical director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center and a UPMC emergency medicine physician.

Like health officials around the country, Lynch said chloroquine should not be taken in any form unless being administered in a hospital or clinical trial setting, where patients can be closely monitored for potential effects ranging from coma to cardiac arrest. The drug can be especially dangerous for young children and fatal even in tiny doses for children younger than 5.

What’s more, its potential impact on slowing or lessening the symptoms of covid-19 is “just a hypothesis at this point,” Lynch said.

“We do not have scientific evidence that this is an effective treatment, or that it’s safe for the general population,” echoed Dr. Arvind Venkat, emergency medicine physician for Allegheny Health Network.

Pa. man hospitalized after ingesting chloroquine, recovering

At least one person has been hospitalized in Pennsylvania after ingesting either chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, state poison control data show.

That unidentified person, who called the Philadelphia Poison Control Center on Thursday, did not die from the substance, and it’s unclear which form was taken. Their condition does not appear to be life-threatening, Lynch said.

“Chloroquine phosphate” was listed as an active ingredient in a fish tank cleaner that killed an Arizona man Monday and left his wife in critical condition.

The Phoenix man died after taking a chloroquine phosphate tablet sold as a fish tank cleaner — whose formulation is different than the chloroquine medical drug used to treat malaria, health officials said. The couple, both in their 60s, said they did so in the ill-informed hopes of staving off covid-19. The pair reported feeling severe symptoms within about a half hour.

The drug’s potential negative effects can happen in about 30 to 60 minutes, Lynch said.

Chloroquine can cause sedation, comas and seizures and block electrical signals to the heart or cause cardiac arrest, Lynch said.

Officials with Banner Health, the hospital system where the Arizona couple was treated, promptly issued a public health alert that people should not turn to chloroquine or inappropriate drugs of their choosing in an attempt to thwart covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“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,” said Dr. Daniel Brooks, medical director at Banner Poison and Drug Information Center. “The last thing that we want right now is to inundate our emergency departments with patients who believe they found a vague and risky solution that could potentially jeopardize their health.”

The Arizona couple reported taking the fish tank product with some soda days after watching President Trump tout on national television that he was fast-tracking the approval of chloroquine as a possible way to combat covid-19.

The FDA reiterated in a statement last week that there are “no FDA-approved therapeutics or drugs to treat, cure or prevent covid-19.”

The Pittsburgh Poison Center is collaborating with the Allegheny County Health Department and United Way’s 211 helpline to triage people reporting possible symptoms of covid-19 and refer them to the appropriate doctor and testing centers.

Officials continue to advise people to maintain daily routines, healthy diets, exercise and frequently wash hands and surfaces as they maintain social distance and self-isolate if feeling sick during the pandemic.

It’s important to keep sanitizers and cleaning products out of the hands of children amid such efforts, Lynch said.

Spikes in children with bleach, hand sanitizer poisoning

In addition to triaging covid-19 calls, poison control center nurses in Pennsylvania have been getting a spike in cases of bleach and hand sanitizer poisoning, data show.

Since the beginning of March, Pennsylvania poison control centers have recorded 152 exposures related to hand sanitizer — an 82% increase compared to last year, data show.

The vast majority of those cases — 76% — involved children 12 and younger. More than half involved children under 5.

The 118 exposures to bleach reported so far in March marks a 45% increase from the same time last year, data show. Nearly one-third of the cases involved children younger than 5.

Seven people had to be hospitalized, Lynch said.

Most cases did not require hospitalization and involved children getting bleach, hand sanitizer or other cleaning products on their hands, mouth and eyes.

Products such as rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizer contain high alcohol volumes that when ingested can damage stomach lining and cause vomiting and internal bleeding.

Fabricated covid-19 treatments circulating on social media — such as gargling hot salt water, drinking copious amounts of water or taking various vitamins or antibiotics — should not be shared or taken seriously, Lynch said.

For most people, the covid-19 virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, older adults and people with health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and health officials have reported cases of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who had to be hospitalized.

Reach any of the nation’s 55 poison control centers 24/7 by calling 1-800-222-1222.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

Categories: Coronavirus | Local | Allegheny

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