Posted on: March 25, 2020 at 3:09 pm

As the number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the United States closes in on sixty thousand, and the death toll continues to rise, citizens across the country are becoming increasingly fearful for the health of themselves and their families.


The panic that has ensued has resulted in the spread of misinformation, and many people have been attempting to self-medicate in order to protect themselves from the virus. While some have tried eating large amounts of garlic to protect themselves, others have tried methods that have been much more dangerous to themselves, and in some cases fatal.

Self-Medication Gone Wrong

In an attempt to protect themselves against the coronavirus, an Arizona man and his wife ingested a substance called chloroquine phosphate, a drug they had used to treat parasites in their koi fish.


The chemical left the man dead, and his wife in critical care.

There is some early research suggesting that the medical-grade form of chloroquine, which is different from what the couple took, may be useful as a therapy for COVID-19. The wife heard President Trump talking about the benefits of chloroquine in a news briefing, and remembered that she had used that to treat her koi fish.

The couple was scared. They were both in their sixties, which put them at higher risk for developing complications from the virus. Like anyone, they were looking for a way to ensure that they would stay healthy.

The couple mixed a small amount of the substance with liquid and drank it, and became ill within twenty minutes.


“I started vomiting,” the woman told NBC News. “My husband started developing respiratory problems and wanted to hold my hand.” [1

Her husband died shortly after arriving at the hospital.

Read: 8 Positive Updates on the COVID-19 Outbreaks From Around the World

Chloroquine Phosphate Vs. Hydroxychloroquine

The mistake the couple made was mistaking chloroquine phosphate with hydroxychloroquine. The latter has recently received some attention as a treatment for COVID-19. 

Both chloroquines (hydroxy- or phosphate) are antimalarial drugs that are available in the United States by prescription only. It is typically a well-tolerated drug, but it can have some side effects [2]. These include:

  • headache
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhea
  • upset stomach
  • stomach pain
  • skin rash or itching
  • hair loss
  • mood or mental changes [3]

A chloroquine overdose, however, could result in the following symptoms:
seeing light flashes and streaks

  • blurred vision
  • reading or seeing difficulties (words disappear, seeing half an object, misty or foggy vision)
  • difficulty hearing
  • ringing in ears
  • muscle weakness
  • drowsiness
  • vomiting
  • irregular heartbeats
  • convulsions
  • difficulty breathing [3]

Severe overdoses could result in seizures and respiratory failure [4].

Hydroxychloroquine (brand name: Plaquenil) is an analog of chloroquine, which means it has a similar chemical structure, but different chemical and biological properties. It is considered to be as much as 40% less-toxic than chloroquine sulfate and is also given to patients with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and the blood disorder porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT) [5,9].

The evidence for hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19 caused by the novel coronavirus is limited. Korean doctors used these drugs with some success according to a paper published in March 2020, however, a newer small, but controlled, clinical trial showed no benefit [10].

Related: Italian coronavirus patient, 79, recovers after taking Ebola drug

Officials: Please Do Not Self-Medicate

The chloroquine phosphate that the Arizona couple ingested was not medical-grade and was not intended for human consumption. After news of the incident was reported, Dr. Daniel Brooks, medical director of Banner Poison and Drug Information Center, said in a statement:

“Given the uncertainty around COVID-19, we understand that people are trying to find new ways to prevent or treat this virus, but self-medicating is not the way to do so.” [1]

Nigeria has also had two deaths due to chloroquine poisoning and has also asked its people not to engage in self-medication. The White House has not yet responded to a request for comment [6].

How to Best Protect Yourself from COVID-19

As of now, there are no known treatments for the novel coronavirus, and the best way to protect yourself is to listen to health officials and practice social isolation. 

“Since the virus that causes COVID-19 is spread from person to person through physically close social contacts, the best approach to prevention we have right now is to keep people from being in close contact as much as possible,” explained Malia Jones, a social epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison who studies how people’s behaviors contribute to outbreaks of infectious disease [7].

Social distancing means staying at home. This means avoiding all public spaces, and not even going over to your friend’s house.

As one doctor stated, “It’s the civic and moral duty of every person, everywhere, to take part in the global effort to reduce this threat to humanity. To postpone any movement or travel that are not vitally essential, and to spread the disease as little as possible.” [8]

Keep Reading: Researchers: People With Blood Type A May Be More Vulnerable To Coronavirus

Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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