APR 17, 2020 8:57 AM PDT

Fish Tank Chemicals Aren't COVID-19 Medication, Says FDA

WRITTEN BY: Daniel Duan


While the medical community is scrambling to find the proper medications for Sars-CoV-02 infection, a significant portion of citizens has turned to unreliable sources for remedy advice. Outrageous claims of therapeutic effects achieved by ingesting garlic, bleach, essential oils, vitamins, silver colloid, or cannabis products are ineffective at minimum, if not outright dangerous.

The line between a hoax and potentially valid treatment gets more blurry, as certain experimental and approved medications have gone into clinical trials, or got prescribed off-label in some parts of the U.S. to treat COVID.

In late March, an Arizona couple was poisoned after ingesting an aquarium cleaner, and later the husband was pronounced dead. The toxic compound contains chloroquine, a drug used in the prevention and treatment of malaria, in regions where the local malaria parasites remain sensitive to its effects. 

This should not come as a surprise: the president advocated for the use of chloroquine and a variant, hydroxychloroquine, as a preventative measure or treatment for COVID-19, even though both remain therapeutic candidates because their clinical evaluation is underway.

A malaria parasite spot living inside a red blood cell (Wikimedia Common)

The anti-malaria effect of the chloroquine-type compounds is linked to their lysosome-dwelling character. The single-celled malaria parasites travel into a patient's bloodstream from the mosquito's saliva, with a majority of them making their home inside red blood cells. Chloroquine concentrates in the parasite's food-processing lysosomes, which stops them from acquiring amino acid and energy.

Due to the same reason, various chemical forms of the same compound are also used to treat and control microbial growth in aquariums, limiting infections caused by anemones, algae, and many protozoa.

The couple who mistook the fish med for treatment suffered from a major side effect of chloroquine — electrocardiographic changes. (Not to mention the composition of the aquarium cleaner is quite different from human chloroquine medications). The medication can disrupt the heart's electrical system, therefore affecting heartbeat rate and rhythm. It can also harm the muscle tissues of the heart, causing irreversible cardiomyopathy.

How an obscure drug became a coronavirus 'cure' | The Fact Checker (Washington Post)

After the event, FDA issued a Letter to Stakeholders, titled "Do Not Use Chloroquine Phosphate Intended for Fish as Treatment for COVID-19 in Humans". To prevent similar incidents, in which desperate consumers self-medicate with animal drugs, the federnal agency said it would work with vendors to remove chloroquine intended for aquarium use.

Sources: NPR/FDA

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Graduated with a bachelor degree in Pharmaceutical Science and a master degree in neuropharmacology, Daniel is a radiopharmaceutical and radiobiology expert based in Ottawa, Canada. With years of experience in biomedical R&D, Daniel is very into writing. He is constantly fascinated by what's happening in the world of science. He hopes to capture the public's interest and promote scientific literacy with his trending news articles. The recurring topics in his Chemistry & Physics trending news section include alternative energy, material science, theoretical physics, medical imaging, and green chemistry.
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