An Arizona man has died and his wife is in critical condition after listening to Donald Trump promote anti-malarial drug chloroquine as a treatment for the novel coronavirus and deciding to take some themselves, CNN reported on Monday evening.
Trump has repeatedly brought up chloroquine as possibly being a “very powerful” treatment for the virus on the basis of a small French study, despite warnings from National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci that its use is unproven and based on only anecdotal data. Per NBC News, the woman in critical care said she and her husband were “afraid of getting sick” and attempted to medicate themselves with chloroquine after seeing Trump discuss the medication on television. The two actually took a treatment for parasite infestations in aquariums which listed chloroquine phosphate as an ingredient and was only in their residence because they had once owned koi.
Chloroquine can be extremely toxic when not administered under the supervision of a physician; doses as low as two grams can be fatal, and it has a variety of severe side effects. In a statement to media, hospital system Banner Health wrote that the couple, who are in their 60s, ingested the drug and within half an hour “experienced immediate effects requiring admittance to a nearby Banner Health hospital.”
As Slate noted, Trump tweeted on Saturday that he believes hydroxychloroquine, a less toxic analog of the drug, should “be put in use IMMEDIATELY,” and on Tuesday linked to an article citing a man who believes hydroxychloroquine helped him beat the coronavirus. While laboratory research has found the drug to be effective in related coronaviruses that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome, the CDC and the World Health Organization are still studying whether the same is true for the current outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, covid-19. Currently the drug is only allowed to be used for coronavirus treatment in the U.S. on “compassionate” grounds, meaning that a doctor is out of proven options to assist a patient and both have agreed to take on the risk of an unproven treatment.
In an interview with NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard, the woman in question affirmed that she had heard the Food and Drug Administration had not approved the drug. But she added that “Trump kept saying it was basically pretty much a cure ... Oh my god. Don’t take anything. Don’t believe anything. Don’t believe anything the president says, and his people, because they don’t know what they’re talking about ... This is a heartache I’ll never get over.”
Dr. Daniel Brooks, medical director for Banner Health’s Poison and Drug Information Center, wrote in the statement that “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 ... We are strongly urging the medical community to not prescribe this medication to any non-hospitalized patients.”
Prematurely boosting chloroquine as a wonder drug with the potential to stop the coronavirus pandemic in its tracks isn’t the only reckless strategy Trump has settled on as of late. As federal health authorities fumbled the availability of virus testing out the gate—issues that have yet to be fully resolved—and the number of confirmed cases across the U.S. soared into the tens of thousands, Trump downplayed the severity of the coronavirus outbreak. But this week, he’s hinted that he may throw out social distancing advisories to the public due to their impact on the economy, something that could seriously threaten efforts to reduce the surge in cases at a time when hospitals across the country are already overwhelmed.