Another study on the use of Hydroxychloquine (HCQ) as COVID-19 therapy was released on April 14th, and the results are not great. President Trump’s favorite anti-malarial medication had attracted excitement as a potential coronavirus treatment. This study is part of a series that have created doubt that HCQ is an effective therapy.
Researchers from France looked at 181 patients who were suffering from severe COVID-19. 84 received HCQ treatment within 48 hours of admission, while the remainder did not. Approximately 25% of both groups developed acute respiratory distress syndrome, 20% required care in the ICU, and 3% died. No clear difference could be seen between the treatment and control groups. These results strongly suggest that HCQ is not an effective therapy for severe COVID-19.
Beyond lacklustre performance as a therapeutic, HCQ appeared to cause serious side-effects. Of the 81 patients in the HCQ group, 8 showed signs of heart irregularities, requiring them to drop out of the study. Cardiac disorders are a known side-effect of HCQ, though it is unclear if the rates of heart issues are higher in COVID-19 patients compared to healthy individuals taking HCQ.
These complications relate to broader misunderstandings about HCQ and pharmacology more generally. While HCQ is used as a treatment in diseases like malaria and lupus, that does not mean it is “safe” at any possible dosage for any patient. There are many examples of medications that could treat a disease, but cause too much harm when given at the necessary dosage. The COVID-19 studies have used relatively high levels of HCQ compared to other diseases, meaning that people who are receiving treatment for COVID-19 are at a higher risk of complications. It is also of note that lupus and malaria are not respiratory diseases, and it is possible that the low blood-oxygen levels that are experienced in COVID-19 could increase the risk of heart problems.
For HCQ, there is now substantial evidence that it is not an effective cure for severe COVID-19. More studies are likely in the works to assess the use of HCQ in mild cases, or as a preventative treatment, but it seems very unlikely that HCQ will be the “miracle drug” that some had promised.
This is part of a series covering research that relate to the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 medicine is an area of study that is evolving rapidly, and some of the science discussed here could end up being incorrect. Other articles in this series cover children COVID-19, weather’s effect on COVID-19, the use of masks, airborne transmission and CP therapy.