Rushing for COVID cures

Will we repeat the mistakes from past pandemics?

People have died from overdoses of unproven cures in past pandemics. In an editorial published last Friday in Australian Prescriber, Associate Professor Darren Roberts from St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney and Dr Alexandra Bennett from the NSW Therapeutic Advisory Group advise we should not make the current COVID-19 crisis worse by using medicines based on inadequate evidence.

Overdoses of aspirin may have contributed to deaths during the 1918 flu pandemic, and high doses of the antiviral medicine ribavirin may have caused complications in SARS in 2003.

“We shouldn’t rush to use medicines before we know if they are safe and if they work,” says Associate Professor Roberts.

“Currently all medicines for COVID-19 are experimental,” warns Associate Professor Roberts. “Suggested treatments for COVID-19 have been based mostly on laboratory studies. Some studies publicised in the media have been rushed to be promoted before thorough review by other scientists.

“A medicine may be found to be unsafe if not used properly, as in a recent Brazilian study using the medicine chloroquine. The study was stopped early because of heart problems and even death with high doses. There may be similar concerns about the medicine hydroxychloroquine.

“Another risk of increased prescribing of some unproven medicines is it can cause supply shortages for people who rely on these medicines to treat conditions for which they are known to help,” says Associate Professor Roberts.

“Fear in the community has also led to people trying unproven remedies. For example, gargling salty water or vinegar is unlikely to help, and consuming chloroquine from aquarium products or drinking methanol has been deadly,” says Associate Professor Roberts.

“People should talk to a health professional for the best advice for COVID-19 based on the latest evidence.”

Read the full Australian Prescriber editorial.

The NPS MedicineWise COVID-19 information hub being regularly updated and is a valuable source of the latest evidence on COVID-19.