Canadian health officials working to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus are warning against the use of two drugs touted some as a possible treatment for COVID-19.
Both chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are approved medications to treat malaria and some auto-immune diseases, but Health Canada is warning they should only be used if prescribed and under the supervision of a doctor.
“Health Canada is concerned that some people may be directly buying and using chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine to prevent or treat COVID-19,” reads a warning on posted on the Health Canada website on April 25.
According to Health Canada, the drugs are known to potentially cause liver or kidney problems, low blood sugar and nervous system problems, including dizziness, fainting or seizures.
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The medications can also affect heart rhythm, which in most serious cases, may be fatal, Health Canada said.
According to the warning, children are “especially sensitive” to the drugs, meaning even small doses can be dangerous.
To date, Health Canada has not authorized any drugs to prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19.
The ministry said while a number of medications are being investigated as possible treatments for COVID-19, results from “large, well-designed studies are essential to determine if the benefits of chloroquine and hydroxycholoroquine outweigh their risks in the treatment of COVID-19.”
“To date, data from clinical trials are limited, and the results have not conclusively shown that any specific medications are effective against COVID-19,” the warning reads.
U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted hydroxychloroquine during his coronavirus briefings, suggesting its skeptics would be proven wrong. He has offered patient testimonials that the drug is a lifesaver.
But a number of early coronavirus studies have suggested problems or no benefit.
Most notably, preliminary research looking into the results of U.S. veteran patients using hydroxychloroquine with or without the azithromycin antibiotic used to treat the disease found no benefit in the use of the malaria drug.
Public health officials worldwide — including Canada — have also repeatedly warned that promoting the drug’s use would diminish its supply for people that actively need it to treat their auto-immune diseases.
In a story published in early April, Global News spoke to a woman who was initially unable to refill her prescription of hydroxychloroquine which she needed to treat her lupus.
On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also warned against the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, and other malaria drugs for COVID-19 patients outside of hospitals, citing a risk of serious heart rhythm complications.
The FDA’s statement comes a day after the European Union’s drug regulation agency warned of the drug’s side effects as well.
–With files from The Associated Press and Global News reporters Amanda Pope and Leslie Young