There have been only a few, small anecdotal studies showing a possible benefit of the drugs, hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, to relieve the acute respiratory symptoms of covid-19 and clear the virus from infected patients.
Health experts warn the drugs’ well-known side effects could become commonplace with wide use. In particular, they say, patients with existing heart problems or taking certain drugs, such as anti-depressants that affect heart rhythm, are at risk of a fatal episode. Experts recommend screening before the drugs are prescribed to prevent drug-related deaths.
“The concern really is if we’re talking millions of patients, then this issue of drug-induced sudden cardiac death is absolutely going to rear its ugly head,’’ said Michael Ackerman, a pediatric cardiologist and professor at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, who last week co-authored a key paper about the risks in response to the surge in the drugs’ use.
Long-term use of the drugs also is associated with a chance of developing a form of vision loss called retinopathy, but the use of the drugs to fight virus in an infected patient is only for a few days.
The FDA’s emergency authorization does not cover longer-term use of the drugs to prevent the coronavirus infection, although doctors have been prescribed the drugs “off label” for weeks in response to the pandemic.