A newly widowed Arizona woman in intensive care is urging Americans to take medical advice from doctors — and not U.S. President Donald Trump — after her husband died from swallowing a form of chloroquine the POTUS touted as a coronavirus “game-changer.”
The president has repeatedly touted the anti-malaria drug without providing the necessary context one should get from a doctor, such as the safe dosage, potential side effects or even what it looks like (pill, not liquid).
The woman and her husband, both in their 60s, were rushed to hospital after ingesting chloroquine phosphate on Monday, according to a statement from Banner Health in Phoenix, Ariz. The man died in hospital and the woman remains in intensive care.
The woman told NBC News that she and her husband tried chloroquine because they heard President Trump talking about it as a powerful drug for fighting the coronavirus during a recent press conference.
“Trump kept saying it was basically pretty much a cure,” said the woman, who asked NBC that her identity remain anonymous.
The poisoned woman said she and her husband each took a spoonful of chloroquine phosphate, which they had around the house as a fish-tank cleaner. She says they saw “chloroquine” on the label and figured it was what Trump was talking about.
The pair became violently ill within 30 minutes.
“My husband started developing respiratory problems and wanted to hold my hand,” she said. The woman says she struggled to call 911 because she kept falling over and vomiting.
“I was having a hard time talking,” she told NBC News. “I fought for my life.”
When asked what message she wanted to share with others, the woman kept it simple.
“Don’t take anything — don’t believe anything the president says,” the woman said.
“They don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Trump did say that chloroquine “could be an absolute, total game-changer,” during a briefing on the COVID-19 disease last Thursday.
“We have a drug called chloroquine, a derivation would be hydroxychloroquine, which I hear even better about, it’s a common malaria drug,” Trump said at the press conference. “We’re encouraging you to take a look at it. We have ordered a lot of it and you can, too. It’s by prescription. It’s a very powerful drug for malaria.”
To date, Trump has not offered a full breakdown of the risks and payoffs of ingesting various forms of chloroquine. He has simply recommended people take it or try it with other drugs.
The president has repeatedly doubled down on his initial backing of chloroquine, including at another news conference on Saturday.
At least three people in Nigeria have also died from chloroquine overdoses since Trump’s initial statement about it, according to that country’s health officials. They’re now urging their citizens not to use the drug as a preventive measure for COVID-19.
Trump has retweeted several of his political allies who backed his initial chloroquine claim in recent days, including one who suggested that Trump has no link to the latest death.
Trump, who has no medical background, spent several weeks downplaying the threat of the virus in February and early March.
“It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear,” he said at a White House meeting on Feb. 27.
He has since pivoted to claiming that he was ahead of the curve on coronavirus, not behind it.
“I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic,” he said on March 17.
The U.S. currently has the third-highest number of coronavirus infections in the world, behind only Italy and China. The country is also lagging behind on actually testing people so it can accurately report the number of infected, according to multiple reports.
Fears of the virus have sparked a flood of rumours, false claims and scientifically unverified anecdotes about cures involving everything from garlic water to cocaine to — in this case — chloroquine.
Health officials have urged people to avoid taking chloroquine to treat or prevent COVID-19.
“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, the medical director for Banner Poison and Drug Information Center, in the organization’s statement.
He added that people who pursue a “vague and risky solution” such as chloroquine are only adding unnecessary strain to the healthcare system.
“We are strongly urging the medical community to not prescribe this medication to any non-hospitalized patients,” said Dr. Brooks.
The man’s widow also urged people to heed the advice of doctors over anything else, given the high stakes involved.
“Be so careful and call your doctor,” she said.
“This is a heartache I’ll never get over.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
—With files from The Associated Press