Coronavirus update: Anti-malarial drug for high-risk people
Coronavirus : High-risk population has been defined as health care workers involved in taking care of or treatment of suspected and confirmed patients of the coronavirus disease and asymptomatic people living in the same house as a laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 case.Updated: Mar 24, 2020 19:25 IST
The anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine has been approved by the national task force of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) as a prophylaxis – treatment to prevent disease — for people at high risk of contracting Covid-19, according to the Union ministry of health.
High-risk population has been defined as health care workers involved in taking care of or treatment of suspected and confirmed patients of the coronavirus disease and asymptomatic people living in the same house as a laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 case.
India’s drug regulator – Drug Controller General of India – has approved restricted use of the medicine in emergency.
So far, there is no conclusive proof of the medicine working against Covid-19. It was one of a medley of drugs being used by clinicians in China, South Korea, France and Italy. A French study published recently in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents found that a combination of the anti-malarial drug and an antibiotic may be effective against Covid-19.
To be sure, large controlled clinical trials are needed to test efficacy of the medicine as a preventive drug against Covid-19.
The advisory from the Union health ministry, however, warns against deriving a a false sense of security from the use of the drug.
“The placing of health care workers on chemoprophylaxis (taking a drug to prevent the disease) should not instil a sense of false security. They should follow all public health measures such as frequent washing of hands, respiratory etiquettes, keeping a minimum distance of 1m and use of personal protective equipment,” the advisory said.
The high-risk contacts of a Covid-19-positive person also need to remain under home quarantine even with the prophylactic treatment. The medicine will be given only on prescription and people on the treatment should go back to their doctor in case they experience symptoms other than fever, cough, and breathing difficulty, the advisory says.
A similar approval had been given for the use of a combination of two anti-HIV medicines -- lopinavir and ritonavir – in individuals with severe infection. A study of 199 patients from China now, however, has shown that the medicine offers no benefit.
“The drug does have anti-inflammatory properties and has been used against other coronaviruses before. There are two schools of thought: One says the drug does not have too many side effects and can be used if there is a chance that it can prevent the infection. The other argues what if it has some negative impact,” said Dr Jugal Kishore, head, department of community medicine at Safdarjung Hospital.
“It should not be given indiscriminately to patients. A research body should be overseeing the prescription of the medicine so that data can be presented on its efficacy,” he said.