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Study Finds Hydroxychloroquine Has No Benefit for Treating COVID-19

Health + Wellness
A hydroxychloroquine sulfate medication pill is displayed on March 26, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. John Phillips / Getty Images

The evidence against hydroxychloroquine as an effective treatment for COVID-19 is growing stronger. Last week, as EcoWatch reported, several studies around the world found an increased risk of heart complications when chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine was taken with azithromycin.


Now, a new study of hundreds of patients at U.S. Veterans Health Administration medical centers found that coronavirus patients taking hydroxychloroquine, with or without azithromycin, were no less likely to need mechanical ventilation. In fact, they even had higher deaths rates compared to those who did not take the drug, as CNN reported.

The study, which was funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the University of Virginia, was posted Tuesday on medrxiv.org, a pre-print server that was not peer reviewed or published in a medical journal.

The evidence refutes Donald Trump's continued suggestions that the drug might be helpful in fighting COVID-19. On March 21, for example, Trump described the combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin in a tweet as having a "real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine," as NPR reported.

To conduct the study, researchers analyzed medical records of 368 male veterans hospitalized with confirmed coronavirus infection who died or were discharged by April 11. About 28 percent who were given hydroxychloroquine plus usual care died. That is compared to 11 percent of those who only had routine care, according to the AP.

Nearly 22 percent of people getting the drug plus azithromycin died as well, but the difference between that group and usual care was not considered large enough to rule out other factors that could have complicated survival, according to the AP.

"An association of increased overall mortality was identified in patients treated with hydroxychloroquine alone. These findings highlight the importance of awaiting the results of ongoing prospective, randomized, controlled studies before widespread adoption of these drugs," 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, as CNN reported.

Hydroxychloroquine also made no difference in the need for a breathing machine. Rates of mechanical ventilation were 13 percent for those who got the drug versus 14 percent for patients who received only supportive care, as Reuters reported.

"Some publications in the last week or two have shed doubt on whether hydroxychloroquine is beneficial," said Dr. Jeremy Falk, a pulmonary specialist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, who was not involved in the VA study, to Reuters. "We were using it on just about everybody early on. Now we are using it more sparingly."

The mounting evidence prompted a panel of experts convened by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to recommend against doctors using a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin for the treatment of COVID-19 because of potential toxicities.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has maintained that novel approaches to treating COVID-19 need more evidence before they are recommended, leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The recommendations were released on Tuesday. Notably, Fauci did not appear with Trump at the White House's Coronavirus Task Force press briefing. The president said he had not yet seen the new guidelines from Fauci's panel, according to The New York Times.

"It's all based on the data," said panel member Dr. Susan Swindells, a professor in the department of internal medicine at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine, as NPR reported. "We just plowed through everything that was, and apart from supportive care, there wasn't anything that was working terribly well."

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