14ymedio, Wilfredo Miranda Aburto, Managua, April 14, 2020 — A Venezuelan flight, Conviasa, coming from Cuba, landed last Wednesday in Managua. The aircraft brought 8,000 doses of Interferon Alpha-2B, a pharmaceutical with which the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosadio Murilla “will combat the coronavirus.” Since Covid-19 arrived in Nicaragua, the Sandinista Government has praised the Cuban medicine as a panacea.
The hepatologist, Edward Mena, who has spent years working with this medication in the United States, learned of the official response plan, and his reaction was not positive. “Interferon isn’t going to help anything,” he warns.
Mena is one of the most respected medical specialists in the hepatic field. He is Nicaraguan but received his professional training in California. He is the Director of the Pasadena Liver Center and the California Liver Research Institute, where he has been able to study the use of interferon in several hepatic illnesses.
Since the spread of COVID-19, regimes with close ties to Cuba have promoted the idea that the medication commercialized by Cuba helped to stop the epidemic in China. In fact, the Sandinista government spread the idea among its sympathizers that “interferon is the cure for coronavirus.”
However, Dr. Mena’s medical practice contradicts this idea. “Up to now, there has never been a study showing that interferon helps with this type of virus. In this family of viruses, COVID-19 is new, but not that new. There have been similar virus types, like SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2011, and interferon has never cured them,” said the specialist.
In an interview with Confidencial, Dr. Mena said there isn’t any proof that interferon stopped the spread of COVID-19 in China, because other medications were also used. He explained that up to now, no pharmaceutical has been able to destroy the coronavirus, but interferon does cause harmful side effects. He described it by saying “It’s like having chemotherapy.”
Before the uncertainty of the medical world, which is hurrying to find a cure for coronavirus, Doctor Mena prescribes a cure that up to now has proven to be the most effective way to stop the contagion: social distancing, quarantine and isolation. This what he said:
Question: The Government of Nicaragua has announced that Cuba has given it more than 8,000 doses of Interferon Alpha-2B to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Can this medication help arrest coronavirus, taking into account that there is still no vaccine?
Answer: In my opinion, interferon won’t help anything. I have used Interferon Alpha-2A and 2B for hepatitis B and hepatitis C and have never seen good results. Now, typically when we use interferon, we use it with another medicine called ribavirin, and the two medicines are used to treat viruses. Interferon alone is not going to work. The other problem we have with interferon is when do we start treatment? Do we start it when there is contact with someone? When someone has symptoms? Or when someone is very ill? My opinion is that if interferon is used when someone is very ill, more harm is done. My professional opinion, with decades of using interferon, is that it doesn’t help anything.
Q: If interferon is used for hepatitis, what other type of illnesses can it help? What are its advantages and disadvantages?
A. With hepatitis B and C, in my experience, we use interferon for one year to kill the hepatitis C virus, and we have only a 40% chance of killing it. With hepatitis B, after one year, the probability of killing the virus is 10%. We use interferon for certain types of cancer and blood problems, and, again, the effectiveness of interferon is not very good.
Q. Is there clinical proof that interferon can help to stop the coronavirus?
A. No. Up to now there hasn’t been any study that says that interferon helps in curing this type of virus. COVID-19 is new, but not that new. There have been other similar viruses like SARS in 2003, MERS in 2001, and interferon has never been able to cure these viruses.
Q. Does interferon have side effects for patients?
A. It’s a horrible medication. The side effects are like you are in chemotherapy. Patients have nausea, vomiting, body aches, anemia; it decreases their platelets, their white blood cells. It’s a very harsh and difficult treatment. There are many side effects.
Q. Many Nicaraguans think it’s a kind of vaccine against the coronavirus. What do you say when a government implies this type of thing?
A. They’re giving people false hope. I don’t think it helps. Interferon does more harm than good. As I said, the side effects are horrible and the benefit is zero.
Q. The U.S. has now become the country with the most cases of COVID-19 in the world. What medications are used there to treat coronavirus?
A. We don’t have treatments for coronavirus. The best treatment is keeping a social distance of two meters [six feet], quarantine and isolation. All the medicines we use are in the research phase. The first is hydroxychloriquine; the second is a medicine called remdesivir, made by Gilead Science; and the third is opinavir/ritonavir, which is used for AIDS. All are medicines under investigation. It’s too soon to say which one will work and which one won’t.
Q. In Nicaragua, the government has not ordered social isolation and also is promoting gatherings. As a specialist, what do you think?
A. It’s horrible, because if you don’t have isolation, social distancing and quarantine, half of the country will be infected, and there will be people dying in the streets.
Q. In Nicaragua, health personnel have denounced the order forbidding them from using personal protection equipment, like masks, because it supposedly creates alarm among the patients. What is the risk for those who are on the first line of defense against the virus?
A. It’s a terrible order. What’s going to happen is that they’re going to infect more patients. It’s important to use protective equipment to protect doctors and nurses who are on the front lines. If they don’t have masks, they’re going to catch the virus and spread it. This will make the situation worse. Not giving them protection will create harm, and this has to be done now.
Q. What message would you give to the Ministry of Health in Nicaragua in the face of this pandemic?
A. The most important thing for the pandemic is to take it seriously. This virus kills people. You must have testing, social distancing, quarantine and masks to protect the population. If you don’t, 50% of patients will die. Nicaragua is six weeks behind the rest of the world. The effects that we are seeing in the rest of the world, like the U.S. and Italy, we will see in Nicaragua in six weeks. They can’t conceal the number of deaths. When there are deaths from pneumonia, they will be related to the virus. There is no other explanation.
Note: This interview is reprinted with permission from Confidencial, an online Nicaraguan source, which also experiences censorship in its own country.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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