Doctor shares concerns over COVID-19 treatment options

This Monday, April 6, 2020, photo shows an arrangement of hydroxychloroquine pills in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Health care professionals pledge themselves to taking care of people’s health. When someone is very sick, like so many are in the novel coronavirus pandemic, doctors find themselves working to find ways to help.

Taking action deathly ill people could include using a drug combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. The Food and Drug Administration authorized it for emergency use.

Both medications have been used for years.

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Hydroxychloroquine to treat conditions including malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Azithromycin is often referred to as a z-pack. You may have had one prescribed for a bacterial infection like a sinus infection.

OhioHealth infectious diseases specialist, Dr. Joseph Gastaldo said medical professionals are turning to the combination in the COVID-19 pandemic in the face of the risk for heart arrhythmias and sudden death.

In fact, both the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have issued precautionary statements.

“If the decision is made to use these in COVID-19 patients all physicians have to make a calculation of what's the potential risk versus the potential benefit,” Dr. Gastaldo said.

Eighty percent of people who have the novel coronavirus will not require hospitalization and Dr. Gastaldo said those patients should not be prescribed hydroxychloroquine.

The drug combo he said may be considered for people with severe illness who need a ventilator. Even in those patients, it is a complicated decision.

“You have to look at levels of potassium and magnesium in the blood, what other medications might contribute to a heart arrhythmia,” Dr. Gastaldo said. “What safety measures are in place to be sure a patient will be monitored appropriately?”

Patients who, after speaking with their health care provider, decide to move forward with a hydroxychloroquine prescription, will also have an automatic e-consultation with specialists in cardiology.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

There are now 31,625 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ohio; 1,888 people have died from the virus and 5,773 were hospitalized, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Breakdown of Ohio cases by county >>

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

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