The health pro­fes­sio­nals wor­king day and night to care for an ever-incre­asing num­ber of sick patients make me pro­ud to be a doctor. And kudos to the gro­ce­ry sto­re wor­kers, postal wor­kers, poli­ce and many others who are per­for­ming essen­tial jobs with a smile.

This is the time for posi­ti­ve action, not panic. For back­gro­und, coro­na­vi­ru­ses are a big fami­ly of RNA viru­ses named for the crown-like spi­kes found on the­ir sur­fa­ce. They exist aro­und the world and cau­se mostly upper respi­ra­to­ry tract infec­tions (“com­mon colds”) in adults. This new coro­na­vi­rus is in the same fami­ly as the Seve­re Acu­te Respi­ra­to­ry Syn­dro­me coro­na­vi­rus (SARS-CoV) iden­ti­fied in humans in 2002 and Mid­dle East Respi­ra­to­ry Syn­dro­me coro­na­vi­rus (MERS-CoV) iden­ti­fied in 2012. The CoViD-19 virus is cal­led SARS-CoV‑2 for its simi­la­ri­ty to SARS-CoV.

Whi­le scien­ti­sts are furio­usly expe­ri­men­ting with possi­ble vac­ci­nes, the virus is sprin­ting from coun­try to coun­try despi­te tra­vel restric­tions. The­re are like­ly among us “heal­thy car­riers” of the virus who have no signs or symp­toms of the dise­ase but can infect others. So, if CoViD-19 is here for a whi­le the world has to look to effec­ti­ve tre­at­ments of afflic­ted indi­vi­du­als today – not a year from now. Some rese­ar­chers seem to have found a strong contender.

Sepa­ra­te stu­dies from a major medi­cal cen­tre in Fran­ce and join­tly from South Korea and Chi­na have found that the ine­xpen­si­ve, readi­ly ava­ila­ble anti-mala­rial drugs chlo­ro­qu­ine pho­spha­te or hydro­xy­chlo­ro­qu­ine are an effec­ti­ve treatment.

In 2004, a Bel­gian viro­lo­gist and the U.S. Cen­ters for Dise­ase Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion sepa­ra­te­ly found that chlo­ro­qu­ine inhi­bi­ted SARS-CoV growth in pri­ma­te cells when given befo­re or after expo­su­re to the virus. Human trials could not be done becau­se, thank­ful­ly, the SARS epi­de­mic had just ended.

Fast for­ward to Febru­ary 2019. In South Korea, the­se drugs were given by phy­si­cians and scien­ti­sts in the CoViD-19 Cen­tral Cli­ni­cal Task For­ce. The­se stu­dies sho­wed “cer­ta­in cura­ti­ve effect” with “fair­ly good effi­ca­cy.” Fur­ther, patients tre­ated with chlo­ro­qu­ine demon­stra­ted a bet­ter drop in fever, impro­ve­ment of lung CT scan ima­ges, and requ­ired a shor­ter time to reco­ver com­pa­red to paral­lel groups.

More pro­mi­sing is a stu­dy of 36 patients acti­ve­ly ill from CoViD-19 by a noted rese­arch team from Fran­ce. Of the 20 patients tre­ated with hydro­xy­chlo­ro­qu­ine alo­ne, 70 per cent had no detec­ta­ble virus within six days; tho­se tre­ated with hydro­xy­chlo­ro­qu­ine and azi­th­ro­my­cin (an anti­bio­tic with some anti-viral action) had a 100 per cent suc­cess rate. Yes, the stu­dy is small, but the­se are extra­or­di­na­ry times.

Whi­le people are strug­gling to pay for the­ir next meal, we need bold action from our govern­ments now: Appro­ve the anti-mala­rial drugs chlo­ro­qu­ine pho­spha­te or hydro­xy­chlo­ro­qu­ine to fight the coronavirus.

Dr. Mari­lyn Sin­gle­ton is a board-cer­ti­fied ane­sthe­sio­lo­gist. She is the imme­dia­te past Pre­si­dent of the Asso­cia­tion of Ame­ri­can Phy­si­cians and Sur­ge­ons (AAPS).

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