After US President Donald Trump claimed to have been taking the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as protection against coronavirus, a paper published in the Lancet Medical Journal says that hydroxychloroquine and its older version chloroquine resulted in increased deaths in patients.
“This is the first large-scale study to find statistically robust evidence that treatment with chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine does not benefit patients with Covid-19,” said Prof Mandeep R Mehra, lead author of the study and executive director of the Brigham and Women’s hospital advanced heart disease centre in Boston, US.
He further added that the findings suggest that it may be associated with an increased risk of serious heart problems and increased risk of death.
Scientists have suggested that the drug shouldn’t be used to treat COVID-19 patients, except in carefully controlled clinical trials. “Whilst controlled trials will be required for confident affirmation, the indications are that these drugs certainly ought not to be used outside of a trial setting where patients can be monitored for complications,” said Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the school of medicine, University of Leeds.
He further criticised Trump’s recommendation to take the drug as a preventive measure and cure against COVID-19 by saying that “the high-profile endorsements of taking these drugs without clinical oversight are both misguided and irresponsible.”
Trump countered by saying that he’s doing fine after taking a two-week course of an unproven malaria drug for COVID-19, declaring, “I’m still here.”
The results of the study show that drugs are fairly safe to be used for patients suffering from malaria but can be fatal for COVID-19 patients. The study gathered the results for more than 96,000 patients in 671 hospitals, taking one of the drugs, with or without an antibiotic such as azithromycin, between 20 December and 14 April.
The demand for the drug spiked when a French doctor, Didier Raoult, said that he was able to cure his patients using the drug. After that Trump took to Twitter and wrote that “Hydroxychloroquine & azithromycin, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game-changers in the history of medicine”. Azithromycin is an antibiotic drug used to treat bacterial infections.
The death rate among all groups taking the drugs was higher than among people who were not given them. One in six of those taking one of the drugs died, while one in five died if they were taking chloroquine with an antibiotic, and one in four if they were on hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic. The death rate among patients not taking the drugs was one in 11.
The study also found out that the drug can cause serious heart-related diseases like cardiac arrhythmias which causes the lower chamber of the heart to beat rapidly and irregularly.
It further suggested that 8% of patients suffered from such heart diseases who were treated with hydroxychloroquine in combination with an antibiotic whereas, only 0.3% of patients developed such disease where these drugs were not given at all.
“A definitive answer still awaits the results of the randomised trials, but it is clear that the drugs should not be given for the treatment of Covid-19 other than in the context of a randomised trial,” said Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
He added that it might be unethical to keep on giving these drugs considering this study which has not been contradicted yet.