Tom Lloyd, MD PhD
Associate Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, Co-Director of the Johns Hopkins Myositis Center

In a press conference today, President Trump discussed what the FDA was doing to accelerate approval of treatments for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.  Chloroquine, a drug that has been used since World War II to treat malaria, was shown in 2005 following the SARS outbreak to slow the spread of the SARS-CoV-1 virus in cultured cells. There are recent studies showing similar results with the related COVID-19 virus, and doctors in China are reporting that chloroquine may be beneficial in hospitalized patients.  Based on this information, Trump announced today that there are “really encouraging early results” and that he thinks chloroquine will be a “game changer.” 

However, as of yet, there are no data that chloroquine is beneficial in treating COVID-19.  While chloroquine is FDA approved for malaria and rheumatoid arthritis, it is NOT FDA approved for use in COVID-19 or any other viral infection.  There ARE ongoing clinical trials of chloroquine in the US and around the world to determine if chloroquine is effective in treating this coronavirus pandemic.  Outside of clinical trials, though, chloroquine is NOT recommended for treating coronavirus at this time.

Even if chloroquine proves to be effective in treating Coronavirus in upcoming months, there are significant potential side effects that myositis patients should know about. Chloroquine has long been known to have potential nervous system and muscle side effects at high doses.  While the toxic effects on muscle may be reversible in healthy individuals, it’s unknown whether chloroquine might worsen chronic muscle diseases like myositis.  Importantly, chloroquine causes “rimmed vacuoles” on muscle biopsies like those seen in Inclusion Body Myositis, and thus could potentially worsen IBM.  Other reported side effects include allergic reaction, nausea, blurry vision, and headache.

Chloroquine is in multiple clinical trials around the globe.  Until we have results of these trials, the risks outweigh the potential benefits in treating coronavirus infections for all patients, especially those with an existing muscle disease.

8 comments on “Can Chloroquine Cure Coronavirus? Not so fast…”

  1. 1
    Paul on March 20, 2020

    I took chloroquine (plaquenil) for my dermatomyositis it was effective for the skin rash part of the disease. The side effects are greatly exaggerated, for long term use you need to get an eye exam to monitor your vision. But the drug is inexpensive and should be used if needed. Your bias against Trump shouldn’t get in the way of treatment.

    1. 2
      mystified on March 24, 2020

      what bias against Trump?

  2. 3
    Maryellen Adams on March 20, 2020

    Thank you Dr LLoyd for your vigilance and professional approach on this subject, especially for all of us with IBM I am fortunate to be one of your patients

  3. 4
    Woodie on March 23, 2020

    How much harm can it do in just 3 to 6 days? I’ve read that “hydroxy”chloroquine has less side effects than chloroquine.

    3 International Studies Find Chloroquine with Azithromycin Shows 100% Success Rate in Treating Coronavirus in 3 to 6 Days!
    NYC Docs Are Using HCQ Now for COVID 19
    Novartis commits to donate up to 130 million doses of hydroxychloroquine to support the global COVID-19 pandemic response

    Mylan NV is ramping up production and expects to begin supplying it more broadly in mid-April. It said with the raw materials on hand it can make 50 million tablets to potentially treat more than 1.5 million patients.

    Teva Pharmaceuticals said it would donate more than six million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets to hospitals throughout the US.

  4. 5
    John on March 23, 2020

    Thank you Dr. Lloyd for you’re information. Rest assured that most rational normal human beings will heed the advise of a highly trained medical expert vs. a guy named Paul. Keep up the good work. We appreciate your knowledge and efforts. By the way, I’m a IBM patient who trusts you 110%.

  5. 6
    Kiki on March 23, 2020

    Unfortunately shortages have resulted following that press conference. Many pharmacies in my city were out of hydroxychloroquine last week when I needed my regular prescription filled for DM.

  6. 7
    L. A. Gardner on March 24, 2020

    Learned yesterday my Plaquenil (hydroxychloroqunine) prescription refill is on hold because it’s suddenly unavailable for pharmacy to obtain. Personally crucial time as finally reaching sixth month mark for ADM when treatment should be as effective as it will be and might permit further reduction of Medrol daily dose. Clinical trials for use in Covid 19 treatment are underway, but incomplete. Hopefully there’s no stockpiling permitted, especially not to point current patients with autoimmune disease or malaria cannot continue treatment.

  7. 8
    Steve lapointe on April 6, 2020

    Chloroquine is nothing more than a zinc ionophore. It gets zinc into the cells. If you look on Pubmed there are many Drs reports that show how Zinc alone is all it takes. The ACE2 lung cells are zinc deprndent and if they are low on zinc covd19 shuts them down and causes hypertension and cytokine storm. Zinc alone inhibits the virus and risky meds are not needed. Chloroquine can cause an allergic reaction and can be bad for people with a compromised immune system. The ACE2s need zinc to prevent covd19. Check on Pubmed

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