Why is Trump-touted hydroxychloroquine linked to higher death risk in COVID-19 patients?
The study, published in the Lancet, found that hydroxychloroquine offers “absolutely no benefit” in treating COVID-19 and also raises the risk of death in COVID-19 patients by up to 45 per cent.
Anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine labelled by US President Donald Trump as a “game changer” in battle against the novel coronavirus has been linked to increased risk of death in hospitalized COVID-19 patients, a major study has revealed.
Trump says he has been taking the drug and also urged others to use it to stay away from the highly-contagious virus.
The study, published in the Lancet journal, comes as a huge blow to hopes of finding a cure and stopping the disease. Scientists have found that hydroxychloroquine offered “absolutely no benefit”.
‘HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE RAISES DEATH RISK’
The study results showed the drug use in COVID-19 patients raised the risk of death by up to 45 per cent.
Experts at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, analysed data from 96,032 hospitalised COVID-19 patients spanning six continents. They 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 were not given such treatments.
So those treated with hydroxychloroquine or the related chloroquine had higher risk of death and heart rhythm problems than patients who were not given the medicines.
Demand for the decades-old hydroxychloroquine has surged as Trump repeatedly promoted its use against the coronavirus, urging people to try it. “What have you got to lose?” he had asked earlier.
The study authors suggested that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine should not be used to treat COVID-19 outside of clinical trials until studies confirm their safety and efficacy in such patients.
There is a frantic search for drugs to treat COVID-19 at the same time that multiple research teams pursue a safe and effective vaccine to combat a pathogen that has killed at least 338,000 people worldwide and sickened millions more.
The US Food and Drug Administration has allowed healthcare providers to use the drugs for COVID-19 through an emergency-use authorization, but has not approved them to treat it.
Dr Mandeep Mehra, one of the study’s authors, said the research shows that the FDA should withdraw that authorization.
“That will help move this towards more, stronger evidence because it will then force the use of these drugs only in the setting of control trials,” Mehra said in an interview. “That would be an extremely wise decision.”
The FDA has said that, for safety reasons, hydroxychloroquine should be used only for hospitalized COVID-19 patients or those in clinical trials. The drug has been tied to dangerous heart rhythm problems.
Both drugs have shown evidence of effectiveness against the coronavirus in a laboratory setting, but studies in patients had proven inconclusive. Several small studies in Europe and China spurred interest in using hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19, but were criticized for lacking scientific rigor.
Hydroxychloroquine is used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis as well as malaria. But no evidence currently exists to show the drug can prevent patients being struck down with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Scientists also warn there is no proof hydroxychloroquine can even treat COVID-19. Also, several more recent studies have not shown the drug to be an effective COVID-19 treatment.
Last week, two studies published in the medical journal BMJ showed that patients given hydroxychloroquine did not improve significantly over those who were not.
Hospitalized patients tend to have a more severe version of COVID-19. Some proponents of the drugs for COVID-19 argue that they may need to be administered at an earlier stage to be effective.
Leading doctors say the drug can cause severe side effects, and can even throw off the process that makes the heart beat in time. According to WebMD, side effects may include:
-- Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, dizziness, or headache
-- Slow heartbeat, symptoms of heart failure (such as shortness of breath, swelling ankles/feet, unusual tiredness, unusual/sudden weight gain)
-- Mental/mood changes (such as anxiety, depression, rare thoughts of suicide, hallucinations)
-- Hearing changes (such as ringing in the ears, hearing loss), easy bruising/bleeding
-- Signs of infection or liver disease
-- Muscle weakness, unwanted/uncontrolled movements (including tongue/face twitching), hair loss, hair/skin color changes
-- Low blood sugar, severe dizziness, fainting, fast/irregular heartbeat, seizures.
There are ongoing randomized, controlled clinical trials to study the drug’s effectiveness in preventing infection by the coronavirus as well as treating mild to moderate COVID-19. Some of those may yield results within weeks.