When the Zika virus spread into the United States last year, the main concern was the potential damage it could cause to the fetus in pregnant women. While the virus results in mild symptoms for adults like headache and skin rashes, in pregnant women it can result in a child being born with microcephaly and other abnormalities. There is no known drug that can completely eliminate the virus, so treatment has focused on reducing symptoms and preventing damage to the fetus in pregnant women. Recently, a study was published in the journal Scientific Reports that concluded that the antimalarial drug chloroquine may reduce the severity of the Zika virus. This could potentially reduce the damage done to the fetus in pregnant women who become infected to prevent birth defects.
What is Zika?
Zika is a virus that is most often spread through the bite of a particular species of mosquito. It can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus or transmitted through sex. There is no vaccine or medicine for the infection and the most damaging part is the potential birth defects that can result when a pregnant woman becomes infected. While the virus was never as widespread in the United States as it is in South America or other areas of the world, it is still important for pregnant women to do everything they can to avoid mosquito bites – especially if they are have traveled to areas where the virus is prevalent.
Chloroquine for Treating Zika Virus
Chloroquine has been used for many years as an antimalarial and has also been shown to be effective at treating rheumatic conditions. The recent study conducted by researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) and UC San Diego School of Medicine concluded that chloroquine may also be able to treat the Zika virus. While the study did not show that chloroquine completely eliminated the virus, it did show that it reduced the severity of the infection.
Since there are no treatments for Zika virus that are established, the best option is re-purposing medications that have already been proven for other conditions. Chloroquine is a proven medication that has been shown to not cause harm to the fetus. In the study, mice infected with the Zika virus that were given chloroquine had extended life spans. Especially important was the finding that in pregnant mice, the administration of chloroquine significantly reduced the levels of Zika in the fetal brain.
How Can Chloroquine be Obtained?
In the United States, chloroquine is available commercially but supplies can be limited and there are frequently shortages. The drug can be much more reliably obtained from a compounding pharmacy, since they can provide drugs that are not commercially available during manufacturer shortages. Other antimalarial drugs can also be obtained and combined into one formulation. For example, the antimalarial quinacrine, which has been discontinued, is only obtainable from a compounding pharmacy.
How Will Chloroquine be Used to Treat Zika?
In places where Zika virus is especially prevalent, the researchers mention that it may be beneficial to add chloroquine to cooking salts that are distributed to the population. This may help reduce the seriousness of infections when they do occur and improve the outlook for pregnant women. Since chloroquine does not negatively affect the fetus and has been used safely for many years, these researchers believe that it should be considered for widespread use in the prevention and treatment of the Zika virus.