France reported its highest single-day coronavirus death toll on Monday, as the number of intensive care cases rose by more than 10 percent to 5,107. France’s drug watchdog on Monday warned of the potentially “serious” side effects of treatments being tested against the novel coronavirus, as it urged people to not self-medicate. The warning comes after “around 30 different serious side effects” were reported by patients in recent weeks, the head of France’s ANSM medicine agency Dominique Martin told AFP.
The patients had been taking Plaquenil – the brand name of the anti-malarial hydroxychloroquine – as well as other medicines such as the antiretroviral Kaletra, he added.
The drugs can trigger undesirable side effects and should “in no case be used as self-medication,” ANSM warned.
Mr Martin added that health experts were scrambling to determine whether the drugs currently being used to treat the flu-like infection were linked to the side effects, with initial conclusions expected by the end of the week.
ANSM ramped up its surveillance two weeks ago of trials of the drugs against the virus, “in particular when they are used outside of clinical trials of chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, lopinavir/ritonavir, tocilizumab and colchicine,” he said.
Before adding: “It’s perfectly normal that treatments be tried, given the circumstances, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t observe surveillance … of these substances.”
The statement was issued after the deaths of three coronavirus patients, though it remains unclear whether they died in hospital or whether their deaths are linked to self-medication.
The use of hydroxychloroquine, and its related compound chloroquine, has sparked a heated debate in France since a study carried out on a small number of coronavirus patients in the southern city of Marseille yielded promising results.
The microbiologist behind the study, Dr Didier Raoult, head of the infectious diseases department at Marseille’s La Timone hospital, insists that chloroquine can “efficiently” combat the virus.
On March 16, he announced his teams had treated 25 patients with hydroxychloroquine.
After six days, he said, only one in four still had the virus in their body, whereas 90 percent of patients who had not taken the drug were still infected.
Over the weekend, he said his new study of 80 patients showed that four out of five of those treated with the drug had “favourable” outcomes.
His repeated calls to expand the treatment triggered a rush on French pharmacies, despite warnings by medical experts that further trials should be carried out first.
Critics of Dr Raoult, whose theory has been hailed as potentially “game-changing” by US President Donald Trump, stress the testing was not carried out in a controlled study and that the results were purely “observational”.
Chloroquine was first synthesised in the 1930s.
A version called hydroxychloroquine, in use since the 1950s, is considered to be less toxic.
However, both drugs can cause serious side effects, including vision loss, heart problems and even death.
The French government, however, officially approved prescriptions of chloroquine to treat certain coronavirus patients, in particular those with more severe forms of the disease.
France’s health chief Jérôme Salomon said: “This ensures continued treatment of patients who have been treated for several years for a chronic condition with this drug, but also allows a temporary authorisation to allow certain patients with coronavirus to benefit from this therapeutic route.”
France recorded its highest single-day coronavirus death toll on Monday, health officials said.
The number of coronavirus deaths since March 1 climbed by 16 percent to 3,024, while the number of intensive care cases rose by more than 10 percent to 5,107.
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