images of Aralen (chloroquine)

image: Google images of Aralen (chloroquine)

|| 30 March 2020

Taking Chloroquine (Aralen): Anne’s Experience

The current coronavirus pandemic has been such a worrying disruption to our lives. When I read that the antimalarial medication chloroquine was being promoted as a possible treatment for COVID-19, I felt a sense of optimism that I had not previously experienced during these trying days. There it was: my old friend Aralen that had protected me from the dreaded malaria the three years I lived in West Africa. Now chloroquine might save victims from the ravages of the awful coronavirus now causing so much suffering and death.

Yet some of the concerns about Aralen and its more recently developed derivative hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) being expressed in the medical community and quoted by the media surprised me. Dangerous? Oh, dear !

During those years in West Africa, I and all the other American Peace Corps Volunteers — as well as those associated with the American Embassy and US aid organizations took Aralen. The missionaries took Aralen. The Western Europeans there took chloroquine, but it had a different brand name.

Impossible to protect oneself completely from the malaria-carrying mosquitoes. But taking chloroquine in the prescribed dose was a reliable preventative.

After all these years, I cannot remember the exact dosage of Aralen we were prescribed. But we took one tablet once a week, of that I am sure. My chosen day was Sunday. I seem to remember that the Peace Corps started us on Aralen several weeks before we arrived in West Africa, and Volunteers completing their service and returning to the USA took Aralen with them to take several weeks after we left the malaria area.

I can honestly say I never experienced any noticeable problem while taking chloroquine, nor do I remember anyone I knew there in West Africa saying that they could not take the medication for some reason or another. That said, responsible organizations simply did not send people with serious underlying health conditions out to work in that disease-ridden part of the world where medical facilities ranged from limited to non-existent. Because we Peace Corps Volunteers would be living in primitive conditions, we had to meet high standards for general health to be allowed to serve there. Even severe acne could be disqualifying.

Yet, I can report that neither I — nor anyone I knew who regularly took chloroquine during the time I lived in West Africa — ever came down with malaria. Though many suffered other tropical diseases: the several miserable varieties of dysenteries being foremost.

But we Peace Corps Volunteers had been amply forewarned about malaria. In Peace Corps training, one of the former PC Volunteers on the training staff told us that he had not been regular with taking Aralen when he was a Volunteer and fallen victim to the disease. He was prone to relapses. One evening I and some other Volunteer trainees were in a discussion group with the man. To my horror I watched one of these malaria relapses. First he began to change color, his skin reddened, perspiration broke out of his forehead, he began to shake. That was enough to convince me and other Volunteers to take our Aralen regularly.

Hydroxychloroquine as treatment for COVID-19

I (and those others I knew) took chloroquine as a preventative for malaria. What about chloroquine and the better-tolerated hydroxychloroquine as treatment for COVID-19?

The French, desperate for solutions to their high coronavirus death count, have seen some success easing the symptoms of the virus and speeding the recovery giving a combination treatment combining hydroxychloroquine with the antibiotic azithromycin.

On 26 March 2020, this past Thursday, the French government, on the strong urging of Professor Didier Raoult, the director of the l'Institut Méditerranée Infection based in Marseille, and others, authorized hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 under strict medical guidelines.

CNN reported on 23 March 2020 that: New York moved to begin trials Tuesday, procuring 70,000 doses of hydroxychloroquine and 750,000 doses of chloroquine. In addition, Bayer, the drug maker, has donated 3 million doses of Resochin, its brand name for chloroquine, to the federal government.

We shall soon begin to see what success the French and the New Yorkers have with the treatments.

What about taking hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine as a preventative for COVID-19? At this point, impossible to know if this might work in the same way that Aralen worked for me preventing malaria. Malaria and COVID-19 are very different diseases. And we know so relatively little about this new virus COVID-19.

But media reports about hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) and chloroquine (Aralen) have prompted so much procurement and hoarding of the two medications that those who take them for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and the blood disorder porphyria cutanea tarda are having trouble getting their prescriptions refilled.

Would I Take The Treatment?

If, in the unhappy eventuality, I should develop — despite my vigorous precautions — a severe, life-threatening case of coronavirus, would I take the hydroxychloroquine with the antibiotic azithromycin treatment?

When I took chloroquine (Aralen) without problems, I was in my mid-20s. Now I am in my mid-70s, and the medicines being tried for COVID-19 treatment are hydroxychloroquine with the antibiotic azithromycin, both of which carry possible serious problems for older people.

Taking the coronavirus combo — even for treating a serious case — would definitely be a decision I would want to make with advice of a qualified medical professional. Needless to say, a professional who did not own stock in the pharmaceutical company making hydroxychloroquine or azithromycin.

be chic, stay slim, stay safe — Anne Barone