Britain has ordered $42 million worth of hydroxychloroquine, despite numerous studies showing it is ineffective in treating Covid-19 and may even be more risky than doing nothing. The peer-reviewed study, which appeared in The Lancet on Friday, was led by Mandeep Mehra, a professor of medicine at Harvard.
Brazil's health minister on Wednesday recommended using chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat even mild Covid-19 cases. Several small studies in Europe and China spurred interest in using hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19, but were criticized for lacking scientific rigor.
The president has repeatedly promoted the drug, against medical advice. "A couple of weeks ago I started taking it".
We just got even more evidence that the antimalarial medications touted by President Donald Trump aren't a good bet for treating the coronavirus.
The US Food and Drug Administration has said hydroxychloroquine should only be used for hospitalised Covid-19 patients or those in clinical trials.
"Each of these drug regimens was associated with decreased in-hospital survival and increased frequency of ventricular arrhythmias when used for treatment of COVID-19", the researchers wrote.
Doctors have cautioned that the drug carries the risk of serious side-effects on the heart's functions.
Today's large new study appears to reinforce those concerns and deflate exaggerated hopes. Their average age was approximately 54 years, and approximately 54 percent were male.
The Lancet study looked at data from 671 hospitals, where 14,888 patients were given either hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, with or without an antibiotic, and 81,144 patients who were not treated with those drugs. There was also a control group of patients not given these treatments.
The researchers looked primarily at the risks of hospital deaths and severe cardiac arrhythmias.
Seriously ill COVID-19 patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine or the closely-related drug chloroquine were more likely to die or develop risky arrhythmia, namely irregular heart rhythms that can lead to sudden cardiac death, it concluded. Those who received the medications had a higher risk of death compared to those who did not take the medications.
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.
Those who were treated with hydroxychloroquine had a mortality rate of 18 percent. "These findings highlight the importance of awaiting the results of ongoing prospective, randomized, controlled studies before widespread adoption of these drugs". As an observational study, it can not prove cause and effect; it only reveals associations with treatments.
While the researchers tried to adapt to the different risk factors of the patients, it is possible that other unmeasured factors influence the course of their diseases. In total, 10,698 patients died while in the hospital.
Despite the limitations, experts still say the study is illuminating.
"Randomized clinical trials will be required before any conclusion can be reached regarding benefit or harm of these agents in COVID-19 patients", the paper said.
Babak Javid, an infectious disease expert at Tsinghua University School of Medicine in Beijing, said in a statement that the study "certainly casts a lot of doubt on whether these agents are effective in the environment in which these drugs are now used in COVID- 19 patients: seriously ill patients in the hospital ".
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