Covid-19: Major study concludes hydroxychloroquine could do more harm than good

Boxes of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine over a blurred electrocardiogram image

The study, which observed more than 96,000 people hospitalised with COVID-19, showed that people treated with the drug, or the closely related drug chloroquine, had a higher risk of death when compared with those who had not been given the medicine.

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine didn't benefit patients with the coronavirus, either alone or in combination with an antibiotic, according to the study published Friday by The Lancet medical journal.

The analysis looked at the hospital outcomes of 96,032 hospitalized patients, 14,888 of whom got some form of the antimalarial treatments chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine over the course of four months.

After accounting for demographic factors and pre-existing conditions, the team calculated that treatment with this combination of drugs is associated with a more than five-fold increase in risk of developing a serious heart arrhythmia while in hospital (as an example, an increase from 0.3% to 1.5% would be attributable to the drug regimen after adjustment for other clinical factors). Patients treated with one of the drugs had a mortality rate of 11.1%, compared with 9.3% for a control sample.

The report further revealed that around 1 in 6 patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine alone died in the hospital. One in six patients given either of the two drugs, without an antibiotic, died.

The study said there were no benefits to treating patients with the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine.

Those 8% of patients combining HCQ with antibiotics were also more likely to develop a heart arrhythmia, the study argues. There was also a 45 percent increased risk of death and a 411 percent increased risk of heart arrhythmias for those given the drug with and an additional antibiotic.

"It is clear that high-profile endorsements for taking these drugs without clinical oversight is both misguided and irresponsible".

Instead, those who received one of the medications had a higher risk of death than those who did not take the medications.

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.

Still, the results don't bode well for the malaria drugs as Covid-19 treatments.

The authors of the new study said neither drug should be used to treat Covid-19 outside of clinical trials and said randomised clinical trials were needed.

But then Trump shocked the world by claiming that he had been taking hydroxychloroquine in an effort to prevent COVID-19 even though it was never suggested that the drug could stop infections. And what they found was increased risk of death and increased risk of heart issues. But the problem is that, while researchers can control for risk factors that they know about, they can't rule out that patients getting chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are dying for reasons they don't understand that have nothing to do with the drugs.

"Randomized clinical trials are essential to confirm any harms or benefits associated with these agents", Mehra said. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted the drug emergency use authorization earlier this year but European authorities have been less enthusiastic about the drug.

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