TITUSVILLE —Parrish Medical Center (PMC) has been treating coronavirus (COVID-19) patients with hydroxychloroquine since the start of the pandemic, for patients whose medical history allows the treatment’s use.
Two patients on ventilators and one patient being closely monitored are currently receiving the treatment.
“We’ve been employing a combination of anti-viral drugs hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin since the first patient admitted with COVID-19,” said Frank Dienst, MD, Parrish Medical Center Intensivist and Critical Care Medical Director. “We prescribe it for all patients who don’t have contraindications, such as a condition or underlying health issues that would make the treatment inadvisable.”
“Most critical care specialists recognize the combination of the two drugs as probably being useful, but it’s not a certainty. It’s generally prescribed only for significant disease, such as pneumonia,” added Dr. Dienst.
Before the treatment is administered, Dr. Dienst and Dr. Ochoa speak with patients and families to explain the process, and that while the drug combination isn’t FDA approved to combat COVID-19, it is approved for other conditions. Patients must attest that they understand and agree with the treatment.
Use of approved drugs in this fashion is called “off-label,” and is not uncommon in the medical field, Dr. Dienst said.
“It’s not a good option for all patients,” Dr. Dienst said. “Honest discussions with patients and families are an important part of clinical decision-making, and in the right cases this treatment holds out the possibility of saving lives.”
Al Ochoa, MD, Parrish Medical Center Internal Medicine, Pulmonary and Critical Care specialist, states that severe shortness of breath, high fever, persistent and difficult to control dry cough, and extremely low blood-oxygen levels are the symptoms most prevalent among COVID-19 patients being cared for within the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
Doctors Dienst and Ochoa are leading PMC’s dedicated-COVID-19 units. Hospital-dedicated COVID-19 units are the entire ICU and the north wing of the medical center’s third floor; both sites are negative pressure spaces dedicated to COVID-19 patient care.
The National Institute of Health says that hydroxychloroquine “is used to treat malaria and rheumatoid conditions such as arthritis. In various studies, the drug has demonstrated antiviral activity, an ability to modify the activity of the immune system, and has an established safety profile at appropriate doses, leading to the hypothesis that it may also be useful in the treatment of COVID-19.”
Various hospitals around the country have been using the drug combination for COVID-19 patients, Dr. Ochoa said.
“COVID-19 is new to the world, and the efforts to combat it are underway on a number of fronts,” Dr. Ochoa said. “More is being learned all the time. At present, the combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin has shown, in some cases, effectiveness for patients, and that’s why it’s in use at PMC.”