The excitement around hydroxychloroquine, the safer derivative of one of the best-known anti-malarial drug chloroquine, shot again after US President Donald Trump last week advocated its use as a possible way to prevent COVID-19.
Trump, who twice tested negative for the virus, even said that he might take the medicine after consulting with his doctors.
But health experts have said that there is still no evidence to suggest hydroxychloroquine can prevent COVID-19.
Even in its March 22 notification recommending the use of the medicine for high risk population, the task force constituted by th ICMR noted that hydroxychloroquine should not instill any "false sense of security".
"As of now only healthcare workers who are likely to deal with COVID-19 patients and their families are advised for prophylaxis. It is not recommended for all individuals," Sandeep Nayar, Senior Consultant & HOD, Respiratory Medicine, Allergy & Sleep Disorders, BLK Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi, told IANS.
"The prophylactic dose being 400mg twice on the first day followed by 400mg once a week for seven weeks," he said.
With regard to treatment in COVID-19 positive patients, the dose is "400mg twice on day 1 followed by 200mg twice for four days along with azithromycin 500mg once daily is advised," the doctor said, adding that we must watch for its side effects.
"It is not recommended for children less than 15 years of age for prophylaxis. Even heart patients must be careful as this may cause cardiac toxicity and if given with azithromycin for treatment, the chances of cardiac toxicity is more," Nayar said.
Manoj Goel, Director & Head, Pulmonology, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, noted that "hydroxychloroquine is not advised for mild cases of coronavirus for the treatment and is also not advised for prevention on large scale except the healthcare workers treating coronavirus positive patients and close contacts of corona positive patients."
"Side effects can be heart block, heart rhythm disturbance, dizziness, giddiness, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea," he said, adding that the medicine has to be taken only on the prescription of a registered medical practitioner.
It should not be taken by the general public, Goel stressed.
Worldwide, over 1,280,000 people have got infected by COVID-19, while more than 70,000 have already died.
There is no cure for the disease even as researchers are racing against time to develop a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 and efficacy of several drugs, including hydroxychloroquine, in the treatment of the disease is being investigated.