FDA warns of risks with Trump-promoted malaria drug

  • FILE - This Tuesday, April 7, 2020 file photo shows a bottle of hydroxychloroquine tablets in Texas City, Texas. On Friday, April 24, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned doctors against prescribing the malaria drug to treat COVID-19 outside of hospitals or research settings. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) David J. Phillip

  • President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Alex Brandon

  • President Donald Trump listens during a briefing about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Alex Brandon

Published: 4/24/2020 3:54:19 PM
Modified: 4/24/2020 3:54:05 PM

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning doctors against prescribing a malaria drug widely touted by President Donald Trump for treating the new coronavirus outside of hospitals or research settings.

In an alert Friday, regulators flagged reports of serious side effects and death among patients taking hydroxychloroquine and the related drug chloroquine. The drugs, also prescribed for lupus, can cause a number of side effects, including heart rhythm problems, severely low blood pressure and muscle or nerve damage.

In one such report, doctors at a New York hospital said that heart rhythm abnormalities developed in most of the 84 coronavirus patients treated with hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin, a combo Trump has promoted.

Last month, the FDA authorized emergency use of the malaria drugs for hospitalized patients with COVID-19 who aren’t enrolled in ongoing clinical trials. But regulators said they are investigating life-threatening side effects reported with the drugs to poison control centers and other health authorities.

Calls to U.S. poison control centers involving the malaria drugs have recently jumped 50%, from 52 calls in March 2019 to 79 last month, according to Dr. Christopher Hoyte of the Rocky Mountain Poison Center in Denver, Colorado.

The problems reported include irregular heart rhythms, seizures, nausea and vomiting, Hoyte said.


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