Aquarium cleaner kills Arizona man who took it to prevent coronavirus
In Maricopa County, Arizona, a couple in their 60s watched politicians and news anchors on TV tout chloroquine, an anti-malaria drug that has shown the ability to disrupt some viruses but that has not been proved effective against the novel coronavirus.
That pharmaceutical name matched the label on a bottle of chemicals they used to clean their koi pond, NBC News reported. The fish tank solvent that treats aquatic parasites contains the same active ingredient as the drug, but in a different form that can poison people.
"I saw it sitting on the back shelf and thought, 'Hey, isn't that the stuff they're talking about on TV?' " the wife, who was not named, told the network. "We were afraid of getting sick."
The couple reportedly poured some of the fish tank cleaning chemical, chloroquine phosphate, into soda and drank it. They hoped it would stave off a coronavirus infection.
"Within thirty minutes of ingestion, the couple experienced immediate effects" that sent them to the emergency room, a Banner Health spokeswoman said in a statement Monday. They felt dizzy and started vomiting. The husband died at the hospital, and the wife is under critical care, according to the statement.
"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," Daniel Brooks, Banner Poison and Drug Information Center medical director, said in the hospital's statement, referring to the diseased caused by the novel coronavirus. "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."
Online hoaxes have inaccurately and dangerously suggested drinking bleach, dousing skin with chlorine and consuming colloidal silver. They've also promoted largely harmless but ultimately ineffective measures such as gargling saltwater, eating garlic and taking a hot bath. One confused Florida official advised the public to use hair dryers to try to kill the virus and later apologized.
The World Health Organization has busted more than a dozen myths about how to prevent, treat or cure the virus. (There is no known cure for the coronavirus. The best prevention measures are social distancing, hand-washing and avoiding touching your face, according to public health experts.)
But the poisoned Arizona couple were not duped by disinformation online. Instead, they sought an at-home version of a real anti-viral drug that some early reports suggest might help fight the coronavirus. Their mistake was deadly.
"There is no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat the new coronavirus," according to the WHO. "Some specific treatments are under investigation, and will be tested through clinical trials."
The couple's confusion over chloroquine highlights why the best thing to do if you think you might be infected or exposed to the coronavirus is call your doctor, rather than seeking treatment at home.
President Donald Trump heralded chloroquine, perhaps in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin, as a potential "game-changer" during a briefing on the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. He also encouraged people to ask their doctors for a prescription for existing anti-viral medications such as chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine and remdesivir, which are all being studied to determine whether they can help fight the coronavirus.
"If you wanted, you can have a prescription," he said last week. "What the hell do you have to lose?"