COVID-19 Treatment Hydroxychloroquine Fails to “Cure” Patients in New Study

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As the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies across the world, there is a frantic search to find medications to treat this disease. One that has generated a lot of buzz is hydroxychloroquine [HCQ], fuelled in part by President Trump’s interest in the drug. While Trump’s comments have been controversial, the attention on HCQ attention is warranted. Some initial studies have suggested HCQ could be an effective treatment, especially when combined with the antibiotic azithromycin. Unfortunately, new results reported in Médecine et Maladies Infectieuses may throw cold water on the HCQ hype.

The report by Molina et al. — studied 11 patients with severe COVID-19 who were treated with HCQ and azithromycin for five-to-six days. Of the patients, eight had conditions known to increase the severity of COVID-19, such as obesity or a history of cancer. At the end of the treatment period, only two patients tested negative for COVID-19. This is roughly in-line with untreated recovery rates, and suggests that HCQ with azithromycin were not a particularly effective treatment.

This study seems to contradict the results published by Gautret and collogues. Their study was published mid-March, and was one of the first to generate interest in HCQ. This trial included six patients who were treated with HCQ and azithromycin. Of those who received the combined treatment, all six were free of COVID-19 within a week — well above the recovery rates seen in untreated COVID-19 patients.

In attempting to understand these reports, it is important to realize that these clinical trials of are very small. Clinical trials of this type typically include hundreds or thousands of participants, but each of these studies involves less than a dozen. In addition, the patients who participated in the Molina et al. study all had relatively advanced cases of COVID-19, while the participants in the Gautret study were less severe. It is possible that mild cases of COVID-19 are more responsive to HCQ treatment.

Overall, these results are disappointing. While HCQ could still be clinically useful, it is unlikely that it will be the “miracle drug” many had hoped for. It also worth mentioning that both of these papers are in a pre-publication form, and could be revised before final publication.

Read the study.

This is part of a series on preliminary research that relate to the COVID-19 pandemic. As this covers papers that are not finalized in an area of study that is evolving rapidly, it is possible that some of this research will end up being modified, and should be taken as such. Other articles in this series cover weather’s effect on COVID-19, the use of masks and airborne transmission.

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