A malaria drug widely touted by President Donald Trump for treating the new coronavirus showed no benefit in a large analysis of its use in U.S. veterans hospitals. There were more deaths among those given hydroxychloroquine versus standard care, researchers reported.
The nationwide study was not a rigorous experiment. But with 368 patients, it’s the largest look so far of hydroxychloroquine with or without the antibiotic azithromycin for COVID-19, which has killed more than 171,000 people as of Tuesday. The study was posted on an online site for researchers and has been submitted to the New England Journal of Medicine, but has not been reviewed by other scientists. Grants from the National Institutes of Health and the University of Virginia paid for the work.
Researchers analyzed medical records of 368 male veterans hospitalized with confirmed coronavirus infection at Veterans Health Administration medical centers who died or were discharged by April 11. About 28% who were given hydroxychloroquine plus usual care died, versus 11% of those getting routine care alone. About 22% of those getting the drug plus azithromycin died too, but the difference between that group and usual care was not considered large enough to rule out other factors that could have affected survival. Hydroxychloroquine made no difference in the need for a breathing machine, either.
Researchers did not track side effects, but noted hints that hydroxychloroquine might have damaged other organs. The drug has long been known to have potentially serious side effects, including altering the heartbeat in a way that could lead to sudden death.
Earlier this month, scientists in Brazil stopped part of a hydroxychloroquine study after heart rhythm problems developed in one-quarter of people given the higher of two doses being tested. (AP News)
This was not a rigorously designed experiment and from what I’ve seen, VA patients almost inevitably have multiple heath problems before they walk into the clinic or VA hospital. We’re a pretty banged up, broken down lot. However, the VA is skilled at doing this kind of evaluation of their vast patient population. Through their Million Veteran Program, they are conducting myriad studies involving genetic samples and health records. The results of this VA study is sobering and seems to help answer Trump’s question of what do you have to lose.
In response to this study and several prematurely ended studies, Fauci’s “National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recommends against doctors using a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin for the treatment of COVID-19 patients because of potential toxicities.
Maybe those with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis will have an easier time getting their medication. We have to do something with our stockpiled 29 million pills. Still, more studies need to be done. Perhaps an effective treatment involving hydroxychloroquine will be developed when we understand Covid-19 better. We're still learning of the full range of damage this virus is capable of inflicting. Maybe it will be an effective prophylactic, not a magic shield or miracle potion, but a helpful prophylactic. There’s no reason to give up on this or any other proposed treatment or cure.