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No conclusive science to show malaria drug can treat new coronavirus, Metro Health officials say

Dr. Junda Woo says more studies are needed, other trial treatments show promise

SAN ANTONIO – Metropolitan Health District officials are warning about the dangers of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine after reports that President Donald Trump said he is taking it to prevent the novel coronavirus.

Dr. Junda Woo, medical director of the Metro Health, advises against taking the drug for COVID-19.

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“We don't have conclusive science right now to show that it helps,” Woo said, adding that taking the drug could yield dangerous side effects.

“The most serious one that I can think of, and it's not that uncommon, can be changing your heart rate,” Woo said.

Even when prescribed for malaria in hospital settings, patients who receive hydroxychloroquine are closely monitored and receive echocardiograms, which show a person's heart activity, Woo said.

She isn’t saying the drug could not have an effect on the coronavirus, but it's too early to tell.

“We need randomized controlled trials to really know,” Woo said.

For now, Woo said the best lines of defense against contracting the novel coronavirus are free and don’t need to be prescribed.

“The best things that you can do are to maintain a six-foot distance from other people and to not touch your face with unwashed hands,” Woo said.

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In terms of treatments, plasma transfusion trials throughout the country are showing positive results. Woo said it is promising to see that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency use authorization for the drug remdesivir. The drug is being studied right now at UT Health San Antonio and is being sent to five area hospitals, including Methodist Hospital and Methodist Hospital Stone Oak.

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