Birmingham doctors offer perspective on hydroxychloroquine controversy


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — An anti-malaria drug is the center of controversy again over claims about its effectiveness at fighting COVID-19.

If you do a quick search online, you’ll likely find doctors who say it’s possible hydroxychloroquine can help treat COVID-19 and others who say it’s can’t and isn’t safe. The conflicting information can lead to confusion.

A recent video online has sparked controversy, showing Houston-based Dr. Stella Immanuel proclaiming the drug as the cure for the coronavirus. Several other doctors stood behind her as she made the claim. Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases, said in a news conference Thursday that she’s “hugely disappointed” in the people in the video.

“I think it’s irresponsible, and really, frankly, despicable,” Marrazzo said. “These are people who are posing as physicians, who are to me violating the Hippocratic Oath, which is: first, do no harm.”

Marrazzo added that the doctors are trying to be evidence and science-based in their approach to finding treatments, and she was as disappointed as anyone that hydroxychloroquine not only didn’t work but that there’s “excellent, high-level evidence from clinical trials showing that it doesn’t work and that it has some bad side effects.”

One of those side effects is heart problems. Dr. Amy Illescas of Total Care 280 said hydroxychloroquine can cause the electricity to travel through the heart at a different rate, which could cause heartbeat problems.

“So if you’re not that sick and you just test positive, and you think, ‘Oh I’m going to start Hydroxychloroquine,’ that’s probably when it’s not a good idea,” Illescas said.

She said there are some cases where a patient might see a benefit from the drug under certain circumstances, but it depends on several important factors.

“It’s got to be the right patient, it’s got to be the right dose, it’s got to be the right setting, and it’s got to be the right precautions,” Illescas said. “And that’s generally going to be the sickest of the sick, in the hospital, probably ICU setting, under the watchful eyes of well-trained and very experienced nurses and doctors and respiratory therapists.”

If you ever have questions about taking any kind of drug, Dr. Illescas said you should ask your doctor.


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