Beware false 'cures' for COVID-19

eScienceCommons | April 3, 2020

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Cinchona is toxic and self-medication with it or any other unproven "cures" should be avoided.

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Following is an excerpt from an article in The Conversation, co-written by Cassandra Quave, an ethnobotanist at Emory University; Kim Walker, from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; and Nataly Olivia A. Canales, from the Natural History Museum of Denmark. 

Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are [antimalaria drugs that are] currently being researched as potential treatments for COVID-19. …

False links are now being made [on social media networks] between another source of antimalarial compounds, cinchona bark, as a natural or alternative source of chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine. As quinine from cinchona bark is an ingredient in tonic water (in very low amounts), there have been rumors that it could also protect against SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19.

Since its discovery in the 17th century, the bark of the Andean cinchona tree and its chemical constituents, known as quinoline alkaloids (quinine, quinidine, cinchonine and cinchonidine), provided the only treatment for malaria for over 300 years. In 1934, scientists developed the first synthetic antimalarial, later known as chloroquine. Although chloroquine was inspired by the antimalarial activity of quinine, its chemical structure (and pharmacological properties) are quite different from the natural compounds found in cinchona bark.

To date, there is no laboratory or clinical evidence that quinine or any other cinchona bark compounds exhibit activity against COVID-19. Also, not everything that is natural is safe. Cinchona and quinine are toxic and can cause serious side-effects known as “cinchonism” which can include hearing and vision loss, breathing issues, and heart and kidney issues. It can also lead to a coma.

While quinine pills were once sold over the counter in the US to treat night leg cramps, they were pulled from the market by the Food and Drug Administration in 2006 after serious side effects and death were reported.

History is full of examples of people profiting from the public’s panic and fear during unstable times. The European Union law enforcement agency has already seized 48,000 packages of potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals, including unauthorized chloroquine, as well as fake masks and bogus coronavirus cures.

The benefits, if any, of chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine for treating COVID-19 are still not fully understood. Cinchona bark does not contain either of these compounds, and the alkaloids in the bark bear no relation to them. Likewise, there is no evidence of cinchona being able to prevent or treat COVID-19.

Cinchona is highly toxic and self-medication with it or any other unproven cures should be avoided. Protect your health and don’t waste money funding unethical people and companies profiteering off fear in these uncertain times.