Hydroxychloroquine shows no virus benefit, raises death risk

Henrietta Strickland
May 23, 2020

Trump had promoted the drug as a potential treatment based on a positive report about its use against the virus, but subsequent studies found that it was not helpful.

The researchers found that those who took chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine were more likely to develop serious cardiac arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats.

The drugs are approved for treating lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and for preventing and treating malaria, but no large rigorous tests have found them safe or effective for preventing or treating COVID-19.

"I started taking it, because I think it's good", Trump said. Google searches by Americans looking for the medicines surged after his endorsement.

President Donald Trump on Monday said that he had been taking hydroxychloroquine every day for a week and a half.

So far, the COPCOV team says lab evidence showed these drugs might be effective in preventing or treating coronavirus, but there was no conclusive proof.

"These findings provide absolutely no reason for optimism that these drugs might be useful in the prevention or treatment of COVID-19", said David Maron, director of preventive cardiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

The study looked at patient medical records in 671 hospitals across six continents, making it the largest published evaluation of the drug's impacts on coronavirus patients to date.

The patients were admitted to 671 hospitals between December 20 and April 14, and all had either been discharged or had died by April 21. About 14,000 of which received one of four drug cocktails that included chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine.

They compared outcomes from four groups: those treated with hydroxychloroquine alone, with chloroquine alone, and then two groups given the respective drugs in combination with antibiotics. The results on these patients, from a long-established global research database, are "as real world as a database can get", he said.

Even though other factors - including age, obesity and preexisting health conditions such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes - might have played a role in the differences in death rates, hydroxychloroquine/chloroquine was still associated with an increased risk of death, the researchers concluded. More than 81,000 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in the study did not receive any of these regimens and were considered a control group.

The highest rate (8%) was among patients given hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic, compared with 0.3% of patients in the control group. They have said that urgent confirmation through randomised clinical trials is necessary before these drugs can be used against the novel coronavirus.

Authors of a separate study that supported the use of antimalaria drugs with antibiotics for COVID requested that their paper be withdrawn, according to the Retraction Watch website.

His study looked at almost 15,000 people with COVID-19 getting one of the malaria drugs with or without one of the suggested antibiotics and more than 81,000 patients getting none of those medications.

It looked at patients who were administered the drugs either alone or in combination with a type of antibiotic known as a macrolide within 48 hours of their COVID-19 diagnosis.

The FDA also warned that "hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can cause abnormal heart rhythms".

It has said an assessment of the safety profile of hydroxychloroquine on 1,323 healthcare workers has shown onlymild adverse effects such as nausea in 9 per cent of those who took it, abdominal pain (7 per cent), vomiting (1.5 per cent) and low blood sugar (1.7 per cent).

Both drugs have shown evidence of effectiveness against the coronavirus in a laboratory setting, but studies in patients had proven inconclusive. Christian Funck-Brentano, of Sorbonne University in Paris, wrote in a journal commentary accompanying the new study.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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