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El Pasoan claims malaria drug helped with virus, but doctors warn of possible deadly side effects

EL PASO, Texas -- It's a pharmaceutical drug that's become a household name alongside Covid-19: Hydroxychloroquine.

"It's been around for along time," said Sarah Watkins, an emergency medicine physician for Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso. She added, " it is FDA approved to treat malaria, arthritis, lupus and is safe and effective when it's used chronically as prescribed, but for Covid-19 the story is more complicated."

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Watkins said studies show that web of complexity.

"Some studies show that it does help and some studies show that doesn't help, while other studies show that it causes harm," Watkins said.

Those complications can become life-changing and sometimes lethal, if it's not closely monitored by a doctor, according to Watkins.

"People who have underlying heart issues are at particular high risk from hydroxychloroquine especially if it is combined with azithromycin," Watkins said. Azithromycin is a pharmaceutical drug used to treat different typed of infections caused by bacteria, such as respiratory infections.

"People can have heart failure or sudden death from an abnormal heart rythmia," she explained, " some other side affects from hydroxychloroquine are neurologic, seizures or irreversible vision loss."

However, there have been some cases which the pharmaceutical drug have proven to be a success.

"You feel like you can't breathe, you are gasping for air," Lucy Lopez described in detail what it was like to battle Covid-19 at it's worse.

Lopez, more than two weeks after her diagnosis is still  recovering from Covid-19 after testing for the virus on April 4 and receiving a positive result two days later. "You have stomach problems," Lopez said. "You get diarrhea, nausea and you throw up. You feel like your blood pressure is high and you feel a lot of anxiety."

Her doctor, Armando Beltran, knew of hydroxychloroquine but had never prescribed for a Covid-19 patient. Beltran advised her to get and electrocardiogram or EKG. "We have to make sure the heart is working without any kind of arrhythmia," he said. "We did an EKG and that seemed okay. We treated her with hydroxichloroquin and azithromycin."

Lopez said she went straight to Matthews Pharmacy to get her prescription.

"The pharmacist advised me to take (the medication) as soon as I got them," Lopez said. "Within two and a half hours it minimized (the symptoms). They were still bad, but the big different was that at two days they were at a minimal."

Gregory Matthews, a pharmacist and the owner of Matthews Pharmacy, weighed in on the drug saying, "If you give the medicine within the first four days, if you try to get it as soon as possible, the medication actually works very well and very quickly."

Lopez was given a 10-day prescription course by her doctor, who says he checked in on her each day. "It was difficult in a way because this was the first time I had treated someone in this fashion and I told her I was learning as I am giving this medicine to you," Beltran said.

While this is great news for Lopez in her recovery, it doesn't mean this drug will work for everyone. "The data is just not there, yet, " Watkins said." We don't know if people are recovering better or faster because of the medication or if the people would have gotten better anyway."

Article Topic Follows: Health

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