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Hawaii Health Department warns about dangers of antimalarial drugs to treat coronavirus

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The state Department of Health is warning the public about potentially dangerous side effects from using non-approved antimalarial drugs to treat a coronavirus infection.

The use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine prescription medications for treating COVID-19 are “unproven and potentially dangerous,” the Health Department said in a statement today.

These two medications have been used to treat malaria and inflammatory conditions. The Health Department cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying there is no specific medicine to treat COVID-19 and no vaccine currently available.

“Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can cause severe cardiac toxicity, and in high doses over a long duration, can cause retinal damage and lead to permanent blindness,” said Dr. Alvin Bronstein, DOH Emergency Medical Services and Injury Prevention System Branch Chief, in a statement. “Individuals using these medications without physician supervision run serious risks of side effects and potential overdoses. Other medications are being touted, but nothing has been proven to be effective and may even do more harm than good.”

The Health Department said the American Association of Poison Control Centers issued a warning on March 25 about the dangers of using hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus.

“While chloroquine/hydroxychloroquine has demonstrated benefits for multiple chronic autoimmune and rheumatologic diseases, the benefit for treatment of COVID-19 has not been definitively established,” the AAPCC said. “It is critical that any use of these medications is coordinated with a treating physician with full understanding of the potential risks and benefits.”

Hydroxychloroquine is used for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and lupus erythematosus. Chloroquine has been demonstrated to be effective for malaria, lupus and chronic rheumatoid arthritis, but has significant side effects, including gastrointestinal distress and potential permanent vision damage.

The Health Department urged those who have taken chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine and are experiencing adverse reactions to call 911, the Hawaii Regional Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222, or seek immediate medical care.

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