Covid-19: Major study concludes hydroxychloroquine could do more harm than good

That study, funded in part by the United States government's National Institutes of Health, found higher overall mortality in coronavirus patients who took hydroxychloroquine while in Veterans Administration hospitals.

The biggest risk increase was seen in the group treated with hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic, where 8 per cent of patients who got the combination developed a heart arrhythmia, compared with 0.3 per cent of those in the comparison group.

In fact, hydroxychloroquine, as well as a related medicine, chloroquine, may even raise the risk for death and serious heart rhythm disorders in people who use it, an global team of researchers reported.

Proponents of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, which have been used for decades against malaria and lupus, say azithromycin and zinc make the drugs more effective against COVID-19.

The researchers also observed a four-fold increased risk of cardiac arrhythmia. The death rate among patients not taking the drugs was one in 11.

One of the findings of the current study seems hard to ignore: that the drugs increase the risk of risky disturbances in heart rhythms.

Donald Trump has claimed that he was consuming and promoting the drug. Those who took hydroxychloroquine were 34% more likely to die and were 137% more likely to develop heart rhythm problems. When the drugs were used in combination with a macrolide, the death rate rose to more than one in five for chloroquine (22.2%, 839/3,783) and nearly one in four for hydroxychloroquine (23.8%, 1,479/6,221).

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The researchers said that after considering multiple confounding factors when compared with mortality in the control group, hydroxychloroquine, hydroxychloroquine with macrolide, chloroquine, and chloroquine with a macrolide were "independently associated with an increased risk of de-novo ventricular arrhythmia during hospitalization".

Hydroxychloroquine is normally used to treat arthritis but pronouncement from public figures including US President Donald Trump - who announced this week he is taking the drug - has prompted governments to bulk buy the medicine.

The researchers found that the mortality rate was the highest among those 6,221 patients who received hydroxychloroquine with a macrolide (23.8%), while the treatment of coronavirus with hydroxychloroquine alone in a group comprising 3,016 patients resulted in an 18% death rate.

"Hospitalized patients with Covid-19 who were treated with antimalarial hydroxychloroquine were at a higher risk of death than those who did not take it", the study said.

Mehra's group analyzed some 96,000 patients from 671 hospitals on six continents with COVID-19 infection, from December 20 to April 14, all of whom had either died or been discharged from the hospital by April 21.

"Randomized clinical trials are essential to confirm any harms or benefits associated with these agents", Mehra said. "In the meantime, we suggest these drugs should not be used as treatments for COVID-19 outside of clinical trials". The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted the drug emergency use authorization earlier this year but European authorities have been less enthusiastic about the drug. Those who received hydroxychloroquine fared no better than those who did not. Christian Funck-Brentano, of Sorbonne University in Paris, wrote in a journal commentary accompanying the new study.

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