Trump's anti-malaria drug has high COVID-19 death risk

Henrietta Strickland
May 23, 2020

As President Donald Trump pushes to reopen the country despite warnings from doctors about the consequences of moving too quickly during the coronavirus crisis, he has been lashing out at scientists whose conclusions he doesn't like. It found that those who were treated with chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine through four methods all died at a higher rate than those who did not received the drug.

Seriously ill COVID-19 patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine or the closely-related drug chloroquine were more likely to die or develop unsafe arrhythmia, namely irregular heart rhythms that can lead to sudden cardiac death, it concluded.

On April 24, the Food and Drug Administration cautioned against the use of hydroxychloroquine "outside of the hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems".

According to health experts, Hydroxychloroquine can be recommended for malaria and conditions such as lupus or arthritis.

Looking at the records of 96,000 patients across hundreds of hospitals, they found that administering the drugs actually increased the risk of dying.

"The key finding of this study is that neither single, nor combination therapy with either chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine appear to provide any patient benefit in large numbers of Covid-19 infected patients".

It was found in the study that the patients were more likely to die in the hospital and get heart rhythm complications than other coronavirus patients involved in a comparison group. The authors explain that if the rate of mortality is 9.3% in the control group, after adjustment for the other clinical factors, the rate attributable to the use of the drug regimens would rise to 12.4-13.4%.

The report further revealed that around 1 in 6 patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine alone died in the hospital.

In Switzerland, 17 hospitals are now participating in a World Health Organization (WHO) solidarity study to test the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine.

The difficulty with observational (sometimes called "real-world") studies is that, often, the patients whom doctors choose to treat with a drug are different - in this case, probably sicker - than those who go untreated.

The observed patients, hospitalised between 20 December 2019 and 14 April 2020, were recruited from 671 hospitals in six continents and divided into five groups: those who did not receive any treatment by these drugs (control group), those who were treated with hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine alone, and those who received any of these drugs in combination with macrolide (antibiotic). "Based upon these findings and others, no one should take hydroxychloroquine with or without an antibiotic unless they are in a randomized controlled trial".

Those who took the drug paired with an antibiotic had a 45% increased risk of death and a 411% risk of heart arrhythmias.

The research team cautioned against using the drug to treat COVID-19 outside of clinical trials until there are conclusive data on the drug's safety and efficacy.

Trump said Wednesday that he will finish taking hydroxychloroquine this week, and has not reported any health issues.

There is "no scientific evidence" of the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, said Frank Ruschitzka, head of the Department of Cardiology at the University Hospital of Zurich in a statementexternal link.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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