A number of people who took medicines not prescribed by a doctor and whose compositions were not fully known, thinking those would protect them against Covid, are now being diagnosed with severe liver diseases, doctors said.
Doctors suspect that some of the drugs, which people believed were immunity boosters, contained toxic metals like mercury and cadmium that could have damaged the liver.
Drug-induced liver diseases were found in the pre-pandemic days, too, but people have been complaining of such ailments with greater frequency since the outbreak of Covid.
The patients are found to be non-alcoholic and are testing negative for hepatitis. The other thing common among them is that they had self-medicated in the belief that the drugs would boost their immunity and prevent them from contracting Covid.
People’s opinions were also swayed by the fact that many allopathic doctors had prescribed supplements as immunity boosters. That gave the impression that boosting immunity in whatever way would shield them against Covid, said doctors.
Whenever Covid cases surged, people shared with each other over WhatsApp and through other means lists of medicines believed to be immunity boosters. Many consumed such products without consulting doctors.
“When I first diagnosed a case of drug-induced liver disease during Covid, I felt it was a stray case. Then I came across a few more patients. Four of them had to be hospitalised. I learnt that other hepatologists, too, were coming across similar instances,” said Manoj Agarwal, chief gastroenterologist and hepatologist at Belle Vue Clinic.
The patients were non-alcoholic and they tested negative for hepatitis, Agarwal said. “Later, when I asked them about the medicines they had taken, they said they had taken non-prescribed drugs for days to protect themselves against Covid,” he said.
“A few scientific papers have also been published linking liver damage during Covid to people’s habit of taking drugs without consulting doctors.”
Chandramouli Bhattacharya, an infectious disease specialist at Peerless Hospital, said drug-induced liver disease was diagnosed before the pandemic, too. It could lead to liver failure.
“The consequences can be very severe. There were instances where transplantation was the only option left to save people suffering from liver failure, caused by consumption of non-prescribed and unregulated drugs,” he said.
“The compositions of such drugs are not known. If they have toxic elements, they can harm the liver and the kidneys,” he said. Bhattacharya felt one reason why people took a lot of “immunity boosters” was that many doctors prescribed zinc and multivitamin supplements during Covid.
He said that while these supplements do not cause any harm, they did not give protection against Covid, as revealed by subsequent research.
As for the other supplements, many took them but a few suffered a bad outcome. Doctors said those impacted may have had some underlying liver disease that was never diagnosed and which was aggravated by these drugs.
“We do not know how many of us have an underlying liver disease. When the toxic elements in these so-called booster drugs were taken for days, it further damaged the liver and the two together worsened the situation,” said Sanjiv Saigal, principal director and head of hepatology and liver transplant medicine at Delhi’s Max Hospital.
Not everyone was convinced by the argument. Abhijit Chowdhury, a public health expert and hepatologist at SSKM Hospital, felt it was still too early to find a correlation between the two.
“The impact of Covid on people’s health will be known better in the coming months. I believe it is still too early to say that liver damage in some people can be linked to their taking non-prescribed drugs during Covid,” he said.