The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an alert warning clinicians about the potential for severe illness, including death, associated with the use of non-pharmaceutical chloroquine phosphate.

The warning comes after the Agency was alerted to 2 individuals who ingested non-pharmaceutical chloroquine phosphate, a chemical used in home aquariums, because they believed the substance would prevent them from being infected with coronavirus (COVID-19). One of these individuals died shortly after arriving at the hospital, while the other was critically ill with severe gastrointestinal symptoms and cardiac conduction abnormalities. 

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any treatment for COVID-19. Pharmaceutical grade chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulfate are FDA-approved for the treatment of conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and malaria. Recent studies have shown that chloroquine could potentially reduce the duration of symptoms and viral shedding in COVID-19 patients. A small French study showed that when treated with the combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, 100% of patients (n=6) were virologically cured at day 6 post-inclusion. The study, however, had several limitations including small sample size and limited long-term outcome follow-up. Additional studies are underway to investigate the drug as a potential treatment, according to the FDA.  

In the meantime, the CDC is recommending that clinicians educate patients about the serious risks associated with ingesting non-pharmaceutical chloroquine products and other aquarium use chemicals. Moreover, taking pharmaceutical grade chloroquine phosphate or hydroxychloroquine sulfate without a prescription or in excessive amounts also carries significant risks. These may include cardiac rhythm disturbances, severe hypokalemia, cardiovascular collapse, seizures, coma and death. 

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Adverse events related to non-pharmaceutical products can be reported by calling (888) 463-6332 or emailing FDA-COVID-19-Fraudulent-Products@fda.hhs.gov.

For more information visit cdc.gov.