BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. (WLOX) - A Bay St. Louis doctor is on board with the experimental COVID-19 treatment touted by President Donald Trump.
Dr. Demitri Yanez said he has been using the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine in conjunction with the antibiotic Zithromax to treat COVID-19 patients with great success.
“I have seen a turnaround in their symptoms sometimes as soon as four or five days,” Yanez said on Tuesday, “and for double pneumonia, I’ve seen it turnaround in five to seven days.”
Amy Gamble of Bay St. Louis was prescribed the drug but didn’t take it initially because she feared it might affect her heart condition. Her condition grew worse in the next two days taking only the antibiotic.
“I got very sick,” she said. “Even though my COVID test came back negative, Dr. Yanez was convinced that I still had COVID-19 and my pneumonia was getting worse, and I literally couldn’t breathe. I mean I was probably a step away from going into the hospital.”
Five days after being on the combined drug therapy, she is seeing improvement.
“I’m finally getting better, the cough is minimal, very minimal," she said. "It’s the shortness of breath at this point that is still holding me back.”
Critics of the drug say its effectiveness is untested. The government’s top infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, has cautioned against having too much faith in the unproven drug.
Gamble said she is proof of the drugs’ success.
“I mean, of course, I’m one person. They’ve got to do tests and studies on hundreds of thousands before this drug is going to be known as a potential cure or definite help.”
Memorial Hospital at Gulfport is another Coast provider that has been using the much-debated drug combination to combat COVID-19 with some success.
Because of limited supplies early, they were only giving the drug hydroxy-chloroquine in conjunction with the antibiotic Zithromax to patients who had been admitted to the hospital.
Now they are giving the drugs to patients earlier in the treatment process to see if it will keep them out of the hospital.
“So it’s not technically prophylaxis,” said Dr. Nick Conger, infectious disease specialist at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport. “We’re giving it to people who have positive tests, or their symptoms are so classic to the infection that while they’re waiting for test results, We’re offering it to those people now, and we do feel like it’s helping keep people out of the hospital and keeping people from having severe disease.”
Yesterday, the CDC removed from its website guidelines for doctors on how to prescribe chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.
This indicates a distancing from the drugs President Trump has been endorsing.
The website now describes the drugs as being studied as a possible treatment for patients for mild, moderate and severe COVID-19 symptoms and possible preventative properties.
The drug combination is primarily being used with patients admitted to the hospital. Dr. Yanez believes prescribing the drugs sooner as an outpatient treatment will reduce the number of COVID patients needing hospital care.
“What I’d like to do is encourage other physicians to see potential COIVID patients in an ambulatory setting and be aggressive in their therapeutic management with this concoction to reduce the duration and the severity of their illness,” Yanez said.
“Universally, they have gotten better,” he said. “We have not had any patients get admitted to the hospital that I know of, and I do follow-up visits until resolution of their symptoms. I’ve had one patient though that has had a persistent cough, and I haven’t been able to eradicate it."
Both Yanez and the hospital are documenting the effectiveness of the drug’s use to contribute to data being used by the medical community as the country searches for solutions to COVID-19.
Responding to the coronavirus crisis, Dr. Yanez set up a COVID clinic in a tent outside his Bay St. Louis OB-GYN office four weeks ago. There he is evaluating, testing and treating patients with the drug combination. He also recommends adding zinc to the mixture, though it is apparently hard to find.
Gamble went to Yanez’s COVID clinic the day after she developed a cough. She tested negative for COVID, but Yanez said he has seen an alarming number of what he considers false negatives.
“This such a new virus,” he said, “that we really, technologically, don’t have a handle on how to detect it. By the testing techniques that we do have currently available, I just don’t think we have captured it.”
The first test they used produced “only one positive test in 20 patients,” he said.
Another test that looks for the DNA of the virus “had been uniquely negative in patients that have had classic symptoms.” The timing of the swab test has a big effect on whether the DNA is captured in the sample.
A new test that will look for antibodies in the bloodstream is expected to be released soon.
The FDA issued on March 28, an Emergency Use Authorization to authorize the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine from the Strategic National Stockpile for treatment of hospitalized adults and adolescents with COVID-19 for whom a clinical trial is not available or participation is not feasible.
There has also been concern about physicians stockpiling the drug for personal use.
Meanwhile, some drug stores are having a hard time keeping it in stock.
Midtown Pharmacy in Bay St. Louis had been filling prescriptions for Dr. Yanez’s patients and had run out of pills.
“We try to order it daily,” said pharmacist Stephanie Cooper. “We have a few different wholesalers we are trying to get it from, but they do not have it in stock. It is on a national back-order.”
Since speaking with them last, WLOX learned that Midtown Pharmacy was able to order more pills.