COVID-19 (Coronavirus), Chloroquine and You

Last Updated on April 6, 2020 by Chrisantus Oden

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and Chloroquine

The incidence of the COVID-19 pandemic has put the world in total fear and confusion. People are so scared of contacting or dying from the disease and have begun to take great measures to ensure their survival.

While some of these measures might be encouraging such as washing hands, eating lots of fruits and vegetables to boost the immune system and self-isolating, others may not be as positive and thus do not contribute in any way to combating the disease. Such measures include bathing with very hot water to kill the virus and eating alligator pepper.

Due to the desperation of the people, a rumor sprung up that chloroquine is a cure for the virus. This has driven the general public to begin to self-medicate with chloroquine regardless of its known side effects.

This article is written to explain exactly what the virus does when it enters the body and also, to explain the reason behind the belief that chloroquine is a cure to the disease.

The disease 2019 (COVID-19) is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARZS-CoV-2). The disease is very infectious and was first identified in the capital city of China, Wuhan in 2019.

The infectious nature of this disease has made it spread globally, reaching many continents in the world; resulting in the ongoing 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic.

How can I contract COVID-19 coronavirus?

Anyone can contract the virus by being in close contact with an infected person and through respiratory droplets that are released when infected people sneeze or cough. It is important to state that while respiratory droplets may be produced while breathing, the virus is not airborne.

Another means through which one can contract the virus is by touching a COVID-19 contaminated surface and then the face region. Contaminated surfaces range from but are not limited to; POS machines, door handles, ATM machines, Table tops, contaminated bottles and contaminated devices (phones, laptop and iPads).

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of this disease include but are not limited to; fever, dry cough, abnormality in breathing or shortness of breath and abdominal pain. Other symptoms observed are; upper respiratory symptoms like sneezing, running nose, sore throat and sneezing. Reports of diarrhea, pneumonia, multi-organ failure and loss of sense of smell and possible death have been observed in some COVID-19 cases/patients.

It is important to state that not all who are infected develop symptoms.

Who is at risk?

Different groups of people are more likely to have more severe symptoms and fall seriously ill than others.

Most people who are young and healthy and who contract the virus don’t get severely ill.

Records show that the elderly; aged 60 and above are at a higher risk of developing the COVID-19. Another category of persons susceptible to the virus are those who have chronic health conditions-like high blood pressure, kidney or heart disease, cancer and diabetes. 

What is the incubation period of the virus?

The virus has the ability to survive on surfaces for up to 72hrs. When a person has been exposed to the virus, it takes at least 2-14 days before the symptoms begin to manifest, with an average of 5 days. Although it is possible for a contaminated person to spread the virus before symptoms begin to appear, the virus is most contagious when people are symptomatic.

How is Coronavirus diagnosed?

The standard method for diagnosing Coronavirus is Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (rRT-PCR) from a nasopharyngeal swab (collection of nasal secretions from the nose and back of the throat). Another method of diagnosis is through a combination of symptoms, risk factor and a chest CT scan showing features of pneumonia. 

The fight between SARZS-CoV-2 and the body’s defense system

The immune system is the reason for the continuous existence of the human species. When our cells are invaded by  foreign materials, the body’s immune system fight them off by triggering the defense cells to punch through the invader’s cells thereby killing it, making sure we do not end up seriously ill or dead. In some cases, the fight against viruses can be so severe that our immune system gets lost in the fight, causing everything in the zone of the fight to suffer some sort of damage. This means that, our cells begin to destroy themselves as they try to protect us.

When the virus enters the human body (the lungs in particular), it hijack’s cells, reproduces and then spread its replicates. This is very important for its survival because, once it is unable to properly settle in before the immune system detects it as an intruder an all-out microscopic war begins.

The coronavirus plays a deadly game of hide and seek. It disguises its presence to avoid setting the chemical alarms of the immune system on.

In the first few hours of invasion, the virus tries different tricks to bypass the immune’s system detection devices, thereby suppressing immune response. But once the body notices it, it begins to fight aggressively.

In a bid for the virus to win the fight, it reproduces more and attacks more cells. At this point, the body has become more determined to save itself and in turn releases more defensive cells.

When these cells arrive at the point of invasion (the lungs), they hunt to capture and kill the virus. At this point, the lungs begin to swell with loads of immune cells, molecules, fluids and a “cytokine storm” follows. All of these results in an inflammation of the lungs.

The body will develop a fever, the high temperature will create an uncomfortable environment for the virus. Next, the body begins to release mucus in form of running nose and coughing.

With a “cytokine storm”, the immune system goes out of control (an overwhelming immune response occurs) and begins to break down blood vessels and dead cells pile up in the lungs. These dead cells clog airways thereby reducing oxygen flow and induces difficulty in breathing; accounting for severe respiratory syndrome.

Usually, a healthy immune system is able to fight the virus off and recover from the severe respiratory syndrome but in cases of weak immune systems and the elderly, this heightened immune response may lead to organ failure and possibly death.

Does chloroquine cure COVID-19 (Coronavirus)?

Chloroquine is a medication used in the treatment of malaria in areas where malaria is still sensitive to its antimalarial effects. If taken in excess, it can result in acute poisoning and death. It is also used occasionally for amebiasis that occur outside the intestines, rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus Erythematosus. Currently, it is under study for the treatment of COVID-19.

Although the use of chloroquine and its derivative (hydroxychloroquine-HCQ) for the treatment of COVID-19 is still under investigation, many scientists believe that it holds great prospects.

Clinical examination of the plasma of critically ill patients with SARS-CoV-2 shows a very high concentration of cytokines. This suggest that a cytokine storm is associated with the disease (already established above).

Laboratory evidence shows that chloroquine has immunomodulation properties. Immunomodulation is the regulatory adjustment of the immune system. Chloroquine has been used as part of immunotherapy to induce, amplify, attenuate or prevent immune response in order to reach therapeutic goal.

Now, chloroquine and its derivative (Hydroxychloroquine-HCQ) has been used for its immunomodulation properties to significantly decrease the production of cytokines in autoimmune diseases. And this has helped in the management and treatment of autoimmune diseases like; rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus Erythematosus. Therefore, it is suspected that chloroquine might have the same effect in combating the coronavirus disease.

The possibility of chloroquine proving successful in combating the disease awaits confirmation by clinical trials.

Currently, there is no vaccine or specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19 in fact, the vaccine is not expected to become available until 2021 at the earliest. A key part of managing the COVID-19 pandemic is trying by all means to “flatten the curve” (decrease the epidemic peak) through measures to reduce the rate of new infections.

Measures employed to prevent the rapid spread of the disease include; washing hands frequently, maintaining a safe physical distance from others, especially those with the symptoms, keeping unwashed hands away from the face and enforcing travel restrictions. The use of nose masks and alcohol based hand sanitizers also help reduce spread.