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PHOENIX – A man has died and his wife was in critical care Monday after the couple ingested a chemical as self-medication for the new coronavirus, Banner Health announced in a press release.

Thecouple, both in their 60s, ingested chloroquine phosphate, which is an additive commonly used at aquariums to clean fish tanks, the press release said. Within 30 minutes of ingestion, they experienced effects that required admittance to a Banner Health hospital, it said.

The incident happened days after a March 19 news conference in which President Donald Trump said chloroquine is being tested as possible a COVID-19 therapy.

Chloroquine has been in use since 1944 to fight malaria and has antiviral effects. Researchers believe it may interfere with the ability of the new virus to fuse to cell walls and infect them, but more research is needed. Currently, doctors have no established treatments for those suffering from COVID-19 beyond supportive care that generally includes IV liquids, oxygen, fever reducers and pain killers.

Couple is from Maricopa County, not believed to have COVID-19

The hospital did not disclose the couple’s identity. The Maricopa County couple had symptoms they were concerned represented the disease COVID-19 but had not been tested and were not believed to have been infected, Dr. Daniel Brooks, Banner Poison and Drug Information Center medical director, told The Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network. 

It’s not yet clear where or how the couple got the chemical, a Banner Health spokesperson said.

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“Given the uncertainty around COVID-19, we understand that people are trying to find new ways to prevent or treat this virus, but self-medicating is not the way to do so,” said Brooks in a statement included in the press release.

“The last thing that we want right now is to inundate our emergency departments with patients who believe they found a vague and risky solution that could potentially jeopardize their health,” he continued.

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The hospital warned people against the use of inappropriate medications and household products to prevent or treat COVID-19. Specifically, Banner Health said chloroquine, a malaria medication, should be not be ingested to treat or prevent the virus, the press release said.

Banner Health poison centers getting calls about chloroquine

Brooks told The Republic that Banner Health’s poison centers in Arizona were receiving an increased number of calls from people asking if they can use certain medications or household products for COVID-19. The exact number of calls was not readily available, he said.

Some of the inquires were related to chloroquine, likely because of “misinformation that they’re obtaining from the interweb and television,” Brooks said. 

“At this time, there’s no great data that these medications are going to help a majority of patients” with COVID-19, he said.

Brooks explained that while hospitals, including Banner Health, were giving some of its hospitalized COVID-19 patients the prescription medication, the patients typically have moderate or severe symptoms and are monitored under “very strict and intensive conditions” to help decrease the risk of side effects associated with the drug. 

While anti-viral medications such as chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are beneficial to some COVID-19 patients, it has significant side effects and, therefore, should not be given to non-hospitalized patients, he said. 

“We are strongly urging the medical community to not prescribe this medication to any non-hospitalized patients,” Brooks said in the press release. 

Brooks said about eight or nine COVID-19 patients out of 10 can recover at home with help from over-the-counter medication to relieve headaches or fever along with their regular medications for other diagnoses if they have any. 

“They shouldn’t be trying to come up with a magic pill,” Brooks said. “This is another example where there’s not going to be a magic pill for the coronavirus that comes off the internet, that’s just not going to happen.” 

The hospital urged people to check with their primary care physician should they experience symptoms related to COVID-19. Most people who are infected with the disease require symptomatic care and self-isolation, the press release said.

Follow Chelsea Curtis on Twitter: @curtis_chels.

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