The health professionals working day and night to care for an ever-increasing number of sick patients make me proud to be a doctor. And kudos to the grocery store workers, postal workers, police and many others who are performing essential jobs with a smile.
This is the time for positive action, not panic. For background, coronaviruses are a big family of RNA viruses named for the crown-like spikes found on their surface. They exist around the world and cause mostly upper respiratory tract infections (“common colds”) in adults. This new coronavirus is in the same family as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) identified in humans in 2002 and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) identified in 2012. The CoViD-19 virus is called SARS-CoV-2 for its similarity to SARS-CoV.
While scientists are furiously experimenting with possible vaccines, the virus is sprinting from country to country despite travel restrictions. There are likely among us “healthy carriers” of the virus who have no signs or symptoms of the disease but can infect others. So, if CoViD-19 is here for a while the world has to look to effective treatments of afflicted individuals today – not a year from now. Some researchers seem to have found a strong contender.
Separate studies from a major medical centre in France and jointly from South Korea and China have found that the inexpensive, readily available anti-malarial drugs chloroquine phosphate or hydroxychloroquine are an effective treatment.
In 2004, a Belgian virologist and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention separately found that chloroquine inhibited SARS-CoV growth in primate cells when given before or after exposure to the virus. Human trials could not be done because, thankfully, the SARS epidemic had just ended.
Fast forward to February 2019. In South Korea, these drugs were given by physicians and scientists in the CoViD-19 Central Clinical Task Force. These studies showed “certain curative effect” with “fairly good efficacy.” Further, patients treated with chloroquine demonstrated a better drop in fever, improvement of lung CT scan images, and required a shorter time to recover compared to parallel groups.
More promising is a study of 36 patients actively ill from CoViD-19 by a noted research team from France. Of the 20 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine alone, 70 percent had no detectable virus within six days; those treated with hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin (an antibiotic with some anti-viral action) had a 100 percent success rate. Yes, the study is small, but these are extraordinary times.
While people are struggling to pay for their next meal, we need bold action from our governments now: Approve the anti-malarial drugs chloroquine phosphate or hydroxychloroquine to fight the coronavirus.
Dr. Marilyn Singleton is a board-certified anesthesiologist. She is the immediate past President of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).