Doctor, 92, treats himself, says he beat COVID-19

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

After designing his own treatment plan, a 92-year-old Wayne State University research doctor says he and his wife, also 92, are among the Michigan residents who appear to have beaten COVID-19.

Dr. Ananda Prasad

Dr. Ananda Prasad of West Bloomfield Township and his wife, Aryabala, who is also a doctor, began to get sick at the same time a few weeks ago, he said, but they both appear to have recovered.

"Things are looking up," Prasad added during a Thursday interview. "I am much better today than I was yesterday."

Prasad, a medical doctor who spent his career researching the mineral zinc, said he and his wife used the same treatment of zinc and hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that is being studied as a treatment for the coronavirus. Prasad said he was taking zinc as a supplement before he began having symptoms of the virus at the end of March.

But Prasad cautioned a zinc-hydroxycloroquine treatment should only be used under a doctor's care. Guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that no drugs or therapeutics are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prevent or treat COVID-19.

Physicians and patients should follow the CDC guidance, said Kevin McFatridge, a spokesman for the Michigan State Medical Society.

Some in the medical field have been cautious about the anti-malaria drug amid ongoing clinical trials studying its effectiveness in treating COVID-19, including one at the Henry Ford Health System. The Detroit-based health system has said it plans to test 3,000 health care workers and first responders who volunteer to participate to see if the drug could help prevent infections by the virus.

During an appearance last week on MSNBC, American Medical Association President Patrice Harris said the association supports clinical trials, but it's "also so very important to know the risk profile."

"It is my obligation, and my patients expect me, to talk about the full range of side effects, and we just don't know," Harris said.

In a March 25 joint statement, the AMA, the American Pharmacists Association and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists cautioned hospitals, health systems and practitioners that no medication had been approved by the FDA for use in COVID-19 patients.

'Powerful tool' to fight virus

Prasad said he started feeling sick on March 31. His symptoms included "tremendous weakness" and aches all over his body, he said. He was tested for COVID-19 on April 3 and was found to have the virus, he said.

But the doctor began to use a combination of zinc and hydroxychloroquine for treatment, which he described as a "powerful tool" for combating the virus. He worked through his daughter, who is also a doctor, to get the prescription for hydroxychloroquine.

Early this week, the 92-year-old said, his symptoms began to resolve. He credits zinc and the malaria drug with aiding his recovery.

While individuals 80 years and older comprise 11% of Michigan's more than 30,000 coronavirus cases, this age group is the most likely to die from the virus. The 80-and-over category accounts for 38% of the state's nearly 2,227 deaths through Friday.

A longtime friend of Prasad, Steve Bancroft of Franklin, described the doctor as gentle, kind and "non-self-promoting."

Prasad is extremely familiar with the essential mineral of zinc, which helps in growth, normal taste perception, the immune system, the healing of wounds and reproductive health. Zinc naturally occurs in foods such as red meat, chicken, seafood and whole grains.

Prasad started his pioneering study of zinc deficiency in 1959 and published his first paper on the subject in 1961. In 2011, he earned a Congressional Commendation for his studies involving zinc, according to the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

When it comes to zinc as a dietary supplement, the National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements cautions that people can get too much zinc.

"When people take too much zinc for a long time, they sometimes have problems such as low copper levels, lower immunity and low levels of HDL cholesterol," the national institute says. Other symptoms of zinc poisoning are stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, flu-like symptoms and frequent infections.

Malaria drug touted

President Donald Trump has been touting hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, a virus that has killed more than 31,000 people in the United States.

Rep. Karen Whitsett

Michigan State Medical Society President Dr. Mohammed Arsiwala said last week he has prescribed hydroxychloroquine for 12 of his 58 patients with COVID-19 at his Michigan Urgent Care clinics. At the Wyandotte clinic, Arsiwala decided to prescribe an antibiotic and hydroxychloroquine for state Rep. Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit, who has since recovered from the virus and visited the White House on Tuesday.

Whitsett told Trump her condition “went from 0 to 100” after taking the drug and said, prior to the medication, “I was afraid for my life.” 

Former University of Michigan football player Mark Campbell, who lives in Rochester, also credited the drug with helping in his recovery from the virus during the White House roundtable with seven other survivors, including Whitsett.

When Campbell was admitted to Ascension Providence Rochester Hospital, he asked for the “malaria drug” after business partner Troy Evans suggested he ask about it. After the doctor agreed and administrated hydroxychloroquine, Campbell told The Detroit News he started to feel better “within eight to 12 hours.” 

A treatment, including hydroxychloroquine and zinc, has been used on 12 of his patients in recent weeks, said Dr. Mohammed Al-Ameri, a former student of Prasad's who is a critical care physician at Ascension Providence Rochester.

All 12 patients were on ventilators, Al-Ameri said. Three were eventually weaned off the ventilators, six stabilized but stayed on ventilators and three died, the doctor said.

The combination seemed to be "helpful" in his experience, Al-Ameri said.