It turns out an anti-malarial drug hasn’t been the “game changer” as some thought it would be in fighting the coronavirus. It could even prove harmful, experts warn.
Researchers have reported no benefit from using hydroxychloroquine in U.S. veterans hospitals, saying they found more deaths among those given the drug than under standard care.
In addition, a panel of experts convened by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recommended that physicians don’t use a suggested combo of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin for the treatment of COVID-19 patients because of potential toxicities that increase the risk of sudden heart attack.
The National Institutes of Health agreed while concluding that “insufficient clinical data” existed to recommend for or against the use of hydroxychloroquine in coronavirus treatments. It reached the same conclusion about the drug remdesivir.
Even celebrity “Doctor Oz” said Wednesday that it would be better to wait for randomized clinical trials than rely on hydroxychloroquine -- a drastic shift from his previous insistence on pursuing such treatments.
Hydroxychloroquine has been used for decades to treat patients with diseases such as malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
President Trump in recent weeks touted the drug as having “a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine" while his chief expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, cautioned that hydroxychloroquine’s effects weren’t proven and needed clinical trials.
“I think there is so much data coming from so many places, we are better off waiting for the randomized trials Dr. Fauci has been asking for,” Mehmet Oz said on “Fox and Friends” on Wednesday. “Otherwise, we keep reacting back and forth for studies that show an opposite result.”
Researchers in France earlier this month said a study they conducted found no statistical difference between those who took hydroxychloroquine or didn’t within 48 hours of being admitted to a hospital. They said they did find, however, that eight patients developed abnormal heart rhythms.
The nationwide veterans study in the U.S. involved patients who were hospitalized with confirmed coronavirus infections at Veterans Health Administration medical centers. The National Institutes of Health and the University of Virginia funded the study, which wasn’t peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal.
Of 368 patients studied, 97 who took hydroxychloroquine had a 27.8% death rate, the researchers reported. The 158 patients who didn’t take the drug had an 11.4% death rate.
"An association of increased overall mortality was identified in patients treated with hydroxychloroquine alone,” wrote the authors, who work at the Columbia VA Health Care System in South Carolina, the University of South Carolina and the University of Virginia.
The researchers said they also “found no evidence that use of hydroxychloroquine, either with or without azithromycin, reduced the risk of mechanical ventilation in patients hospitalized with Covid-19.”
“These findings highlight the importance of awaiting the results of ongoing prospective, randomized, controlled studies before widespread adoption of these drugs," they added.
In the end, National Institutes of Health has concluded there isn’t enough evidence to recommend any kind of treatment either to prevent COVID-19 infection or the progression of symptoms in those already infected.
That could change as more rigorous tests are conducted, its researchers said.
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