Arizona man died, wife critical after taking fish tank cleaner to prevent coronavirus infection

PHOENIX -- Medical exerts with Banner Health issued a warning to the public against using inappropriate medication and household products to prevent or treat coronavirus after an Arizona man in his 60s died from taking a substance used to clean fish tanks and aquariums in order to prevent contracting COVID-19.

In a statement released on Monday, March 23, experts emphasized that chloroquine, which is a medication used for malaria, should not be taken to treat or prevent COVID-19.

Banner Health officials said the man who died, along with his wife, both took chloroquine phosphate. The man's wife, also in her 60s, was under critical care at the hospital.

Officials said both were taken to a Banner Health hospital for immediate treatment, after they experienced effects within 30 minutes of taking the substance.

"Most patients who become infected with COVID-19 will only require symptomatic care and self-isolation to prevent the risk of infecting others," read a portion of the statement. "The routine use of specific treatments, including medications described as ‘anti-COVID-19’, is not recommended for non-hospitalized patients, including the anti-malarial drug chloroquine."

According to the Associated Press, the Food and Drug Administration, FDA reiterated in a statement released on Thursday that there are "no FDA-approved therapeutics or drugs to treat, cure or prevent COVID-19."

What is Chloroquine?

Chloroquine has been used to treat malaria since the 1930s. Hydroxychloroquine came along a decade later and has fewer side effects. The latter is sold in generic form and under the brand name Plaquenil for use against several diseases.

The drugs can cause heart rhythm problems, severely low blood pressure and muscle or nerve damage. Plaquenil’s label warns of possible damage to the retina, especially when used at higher doses, for longer times and with certain other medicines such as the breast cancer drug tamoxifen.

“Chloroquine is an extremely toxic drug with a terrible side effect profile. Hydroxychloroquine is far safer, but its side effects are still significant,” Meghan May, a microbiologist at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine in Biddeford, Maine, wrote in an email. “If it is not abundantly clear that it is beneficial, giving this drug to a critically ill patient feels risky.”

According to a report by the Associated Press, Hydroxychloroquine curbed coronavirus’ ability to enter cells in lab tests, which was reported by researchers last week in the journal Nature Medicine. That doesn’t mean it would do the same in people or that they could tolerate the doses tested in the lab.

Once again, in a statement released on Monday, experts emphasized that chloroquine should not be taken to treat or prevent COVID-19.