Spike in demand for hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 causes complications for lupus patients


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) – Hydroxychloroquine is a drug used to treat Malaria and Lupus, but it’s been in the news lately for the potential the drug has to treat COVID-19.

Demand for the drug has spiked in the last few weeks, and that’s causing complications for lupus patients.

Elizabeth Polmateer is a lupus patient who relies on hydroxychloroquine to combat her lupus symptoms every day.

Without the drug, “It’s extreme exhaustion to the point where you can’t even get out of bed. It’s pain pretty much everywhere in your body,” said Polmateer.

The medication moderates Polmateer’s immune system, and treats her symptoms. When not being treated with the drug, lupus patients could face flare-ups. Flare-ups for lupus can encompass a variety of symptoms including shortness of breath, pain, fatigue, and complications like kidney or nervous system failure. 

“Lupus in and of itself is a spectrum of a disease, but one of the common causes of flare is lack of access to medicine. So even off of hydroxychloroquine for two week, patients are prone to flare,” said Alysia Kwiatkowski, a Clinical Rheumatologist at UBMD Internal Medicine.

Aside from hydroxychloroquine’s use in combatting lupus, studies from China suggest the drug could be effective in treating COVID-19. New York State is testing the drug as a potential treatment.

Increased demand for the drug has led to shortages at pharmacies across the state.

“So right now I’m good, But I am a little nervous for two in a half moths when I go for my refill,” said Polmateer.  

Judith Christian, the President of the Lupus Alliance of Upstate New York said, Polmateer is not alone in worrying. She said Lupus patients have already reported problems accessing their medication.

“I will tell you I’ve shared with so many and the fear that they’re experiencing right now is devastating for them on every level,” said Christian. 

While there’s limited data suggesting the drug could treat COVID-19, thus far no data suggests that the drug has any preventative benefits.

Doctor Kwiatkowski said, she’s heard of individuals trying to access the drug now to prevent COVID-19, but said doing so is not productive. It makes it harder for Lupus patients who rely on the medication, and harms anyone who could potentially benefit from the drug if it is proven to help treat COVID-19.

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