People self-treating Covid at home lack guidance on medication

By Quynh Nguyen   March 3, 2022 | 04:18 am PT
Hoang Oanh, on Feb. 23, received dozens of messages about what drugs to buy from her friends who had recovered from Covid-19.

She had tested positive a few days earlier and sought their advice about treating herself at home.

The 37-year-old in Hanoi's Cau Giay District says: "But all of them claimed their list of medicines was prescribed by a reputed doctor. I didn't know who to trust and so I bought all of them".

She has a history of high blood pressure, and suffered from third-degree anaphylaxis after her first Covid jab.

But the local ward doctor had said she only had mild symptoms and could monitor her health at home unless her condition worsened.

She asked someone to buy medicines listed by her friends.

The list had 20 different drugs ranging from fever medicines and vitamins to throat sprays and antibiotics, and a blood oxygen (SpO2) measurer, and she ended up spending nearly VND5 million (US$220).

She also joined some online community groups of people self-treating Covid-19 at home.

She says each post seeking advice on treatment elicits responses from hundreds of people who share their list of drugs, with many claiming their list is prescribed by an "acquaintance" who is a doctor.

Whenever someone claims to have been recovered, Oanh takes a screenshot of their list of drugs for reference, thinking it must be safe and effective.

VnExpress has found on social media hundreds of groups of people treating themselves at home, with the largest having nearly 300,000 members.

Every day there are around 10 posts in these groups sharing articles about various Covid drugs of unknown origin.

Dr Truong Huu Khanh, former head of the infectious and neurological diseases department at the Children’s Hospital No 1 in HCMC, says many people are panicked into buying medicines floating in the market.

Many recovered patients think they were cured because of taking additional drugs, but Covid-19 is in fact a disease that goes away by itself over time, he says.

He says people with mild symptoms should not take too many medicines especially unapproved drugs currently circulating in the market.

But these drugs are not just available online, and have made their way even into pharmacies.

Drugs, food and health supplements that Thanh Hien uses to self-treat Covid-19 at home in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Hien

Drugs and health supplements that Thanh Hien of Hanoi takes to treat Covid-19 at home. Photo courtesy of Hien

Thanh Hien, who lives in Thanh Xuan District, spent more than VND1 million on medicines on the advice of a pharmacist after testing positive last Friday.

She was unable to contact the local ward health station because the line was constantly busy.

Hien, who has had pneumonia, went out to buy medicines by herself after symptoms like body pain, headache and sore throat became more and more severe.

"I was overwhelmed when I was offered dozens of medicines, cheap to expensive, by the pharmacy," she says.

The seller had told her taking cough and cold medicines would not be enough, and advised her to buy vitamins and functional foods. In the event, she ended up buying 10 different drugs.

"After each meal, I gulp down a bunch of medicines," she says, noting she is still experiencing headaches and dizziness despite three days of medication.

Medical experts warn self-treating Covid patients not to abuse drugs if there are no clear indications.

There have been many cases of misuse and overdose, causing poisoning, especially in the case of antipyretic drug paracetamol, anticoagulants and anti-inflammatory drugs containing corticosteroids and others.

Van Lan, 60, of the northern Thanh Hoa Province, followed the advice of people online and bought a package costing nearly VND1 million comprising anticoagulants, antibiotics and functional foods with Chinese characters on the package.

She also sat in the sun every day believing it would kill the virus.

After a few days of taking medicines and sitting outdoors in temperatures of 8 degrees Celsius, she caught a cold and her symptoms worsened.

"I tried to dissuade my mother many times, but she only trusted the advice of others online, saying they have recovered from Covid," Mai Hong, her daughter, says with a sigh.

Tran Thi Nhi Ha, the director of the Hanoi Department of Health, says 96 percent of Covid patients in the city are treating themselves but many lack knowledge about drugs.

In order not to fall prey to drug sellers or worsen their mild illness, most doctors advise people with Covid to only buy medicines for their symptoms.

If medical facilities are overloaded, infected people can consult reliable and official websites like those of the Ministry of Health and hospitals or call up hotlines set up by the Department of Health.

But this is not straightforward as Duc Nghia, 50, of Cau Giay District points out: "The treatment instructions on the website of the Ministry of Health are too academic. The information is detailed but difficult to understand".

Duc Nghias son picks up a bottle of medicine at his home in Hanois Cau Giay District on Feb. 28, 2022. Photo courtesy of Nghia

Duc Nghia's son picks up a bottle of medicines at his home in Hanoi's Cau Giay District on Feb. 28, 2022. Photo courtesy of Nghia

His 10-year-old son contracted Covid on Feb. 19, but he was unable to contact the ward health station and so searched for self-treatment information online.

"Most of the advice from online community groups said I should give my son antibiotics and corticosteroids to recover quickly, but I knew that a child with mild symptoms does not need such strong drugs".

Fortunately, he was able to contact a pediatrician who advised him to only give his son medicines to reduce fever and lung supplements. He also told Nghia to give his son a balanced diet and a lot of fruits and to tell him to gargle with saltwater.

His son recovered after five days and is now stable.

Khanh said parents should absolutely not give their children medication, especially anticoagulants and anti-inflammatory drugs, without a doctor's prescription.

Oanh, after spending a large amount of money on medicines, hopes health officials will issue a standard prescription instead of letting infected people feel lost when trying to buy medicines.

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