Arizona man dies after self-medicating with chloroquine to treat coronavirus
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Arizona man dies after self-medicating with chloroquine to treat coronavirus

By Tommy Fradenburg

Contributing Writer for Telegraph Local | See @tommyfradenburg

While the COVID-19 virus is responsible for the deaths of 588 Americans so far, fears over the virus are beginning to take lives as well. A Phoenix-area man died on Monday after ingesting chloroquine phosphate to avoid catching the disease. His wife, who also took the chemical often used in aquariums, is in the hospital in critical condition. 

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While there is a variation of the chemical that has medicinal properties and is used to treat conditions like malaria and lupus, a statement from Banner Health hospital system the couple did not take the pharmaceutical version of the drug. Instead they took an additive most often used to clean aquarium tanks of parasites according to NBC News.

But the sad twist? Neither of them had yet caught the Coronavirus. “We were afraid of getting sick,” the wife said (who wished to remain anonymous for family privacy).

Why Chloroquine Phosphate?

During a press conference last Thursday, American President Donald Trump falsely claimed that the medicinal version of chloroquine known as hydroxychloroquine would soon be made available as a treatment for COVID-19. But Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn made sure to temper the public’s expectations.

“We need to make sure that this sea of new treatments — we’ll get the right drug to the right patient at the right dosage at the right time,” he said according to CNN. He also explained that the right drug may be available but it may not be in the right dosage, “and that may do more harm than good.”

But after hearing Trump recommend the substance as a potential treatment, the name struck a cord with the wife. The couple used to take care of koi fish, and used it to treat them.

“I saw it sitting on the back shelf and thought, ‘Hey, isn’t that the stuff they’re talking about on TV?'”

The couple in their 60’s decided to mix a small amount of the chemical with liquid and then drank it.

What Happened?

According to NBC News, the two began to feel sick almost immediately.

Feeling “dizzy and hot,” within 20 minutes the wife said she also started vomiting; while the husband “started developing respiratory problems and wanting to hold my hand.” Shortly after taking the substance the wife called 911, but it was too late for her husband; who died shortly after arrival at the hospital.

The incident highlights what could become a major destructive effect caused by the Coronavirus: self-medication. As people become desperate to protect themselves and their families, some may turn to alternative methods out of desperation. While Dr. Daniel Brooks, medical director of Banner Poison and Drug Information Center, said he understands this impulse, he strongly recommends against it. 

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“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,” he said. “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.”

The Arizona couple are not the first to make such a mistake after Trump’s declarations about hydroxychloroquine. Last Friday the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control announced their own cases of accidental self-poisonings; and echoed the message against self-medication.

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