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'If we don't really know the benefits, I think it's important to seriously contemplate what the potential risks are.'

COURTESY PHOTO: KRISTYNA WENTZ-GRAFF/OHSU - Vials at a COVID-19 testing lab at Oregon Health & Science University.Spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases around the country are driving a rush for effective treatments for the infection.

A statement from the heads of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine put it plainly: "It is essential to explore a wide range of options for treating the increasing numbers of very ill patients with COVID-19 respiratory illness."

But as more potential treatments surface, others in the fields of medicine and science, including a Portland physician and medical school professor, are urging caution and patience.

"What is out there is somewhat promising, but it's really very small studies with very limited number of patients."

In a paper published by the American College of Cardiology, Oregon Health & Science University electrophysiologist Dr. Eric Stecker warned that a combination of medication being used in certain hospitals could pose a cardiac risk to patients. He said the medicines' benefits to COVID-19 patients are still unknown.

"What is out there is somewhat promising, but it's really very small studies with very limited number of patients," he said. "So if we don't really know the benefits, I think it's important to seriously contemplate what the potential risks are."

The potential treatments brought forward range from treating coronavirus-infected patients with antibodies (disease-fighting proteins produced by the immune system) from people who have recovered from COVID-19 to repurposing malaria medications chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus treatment, which received federal approval March 29.

The frenzy around the malaria medicines nationally was so great that the Oregon Board of Pharmacy adopted an emergency rule in late March prohibiting the dispensing of both chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 prevention or suspected cases of the disease.

Along with hydroxychloroquine, the antibiotic azithromycin has gotten a lot of national attention. In late March, President Donald Trump tweeted: "HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine."

This OPB story is shared as part of a local media project to increase COVID-19 news coverage.

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