Drug Touted By Trump As Covid-19 Treatment Linked To Higher Rate Of Deaths In New Study

Foil packet of Hydroxychloroquine tablets isolated on a white background. Gary L Hider/Shutterstock

The drug hydroxychloroquine has been the focus of medical and media interest as a possible treatment for Covid-19 after President Trump praised the drug in multiple tweets and press conferences, despite a lack of medical evidence. A small and limited study carried out in France showed some benefits in treating the respiratory disease, but a second study carried out in China found the drug no better than current care. Now, a larger (but still limited) study conducted in the US has shown that not only were there no improvements in patients on the drug, but they were more likely to die than those who weren't on it.

This doesn’t mean that the drug is making the condition worse, but it doesn’t help the case for its use as a coronavirus treatment. All the studies carried out on hydroxychloroquine's effectiveness so far have not had the very strict requirements of a clinical trial, but with 368 patients involved, this new study is the largest one conducted so far. The medical researchers looked at patients at United States Veterans Health Administration medical centers receiving either hydroxychloroquine alone, or alongside azithromycin, or neither. All patients also received standard supportive management for Covid-19.

More than 27 percent of the patients who received the hydroxychloroquine alone without azithromycin died – much higher than the 22 percent that was treated with the hydroxychloroquine-azithromycin combination, and the 11 percent death rate for patients that did not receive the drugs.

“In this study, we found no evidence that use of hydroxychloroquine, either with or without azithromycin, reduced the risk of mechanical ventilation in patients hospitalized with Covid-19,” the researchers report in the yet to be peer-reviewed paper. “An association of increased overall mortality was identified in patients treated with hydroxychloroquine alone. These findings highlight the importance of awaiting the results of ongoing prospective, randomized, controlled studies before widespread adoption of these drugs.”

The VA study is not alone in finding the reported benefits of hydroxychloroquine as "anecdotal", as Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the president's leading medical advisor on Covid-19 described them in March. Smaller trials conducted internationally have failed to find any benefits to the drug, and other approaches with similar drugs had to be halted due to serious side effects.

The guidelines for the National Institute of Health for Covid-19 treatments states that there is insufficient evidence for or against the use of the drug as an effective treatment, and cautions that patients who received the drug should be monitored for adverse reactions to it. 

Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malarial drug, usually prescribed to sufferers of lupus. As important as it is to find a successful treatment for the coronavirus running rampant around the globe, it's important not to fixate on a quick fix, or prevent people for whom the drug has already been proven a successful treatment for their particular ailment from accessing it.

[H/T: Associated Press]

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