Advertisement

Drug initially touted to treat COVID-19 linked to a greater risk of death, study finds

A large study published Friday found that seriously ill COVID-19 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine were more likely to die or develop dangerous heart arrhythmias.

Advertisement

Seriously ill COVID-19 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine were more likely to die or develop dangerous heart arrhythmias, according to a large observational study published Friday in the medical journal The Lancet.

Researchers looked at data from more than 96,000 COVID-19 patients from 671 hospitals. All were hospitalized from late December to mid-April and had died or been discharged by April 21. Just below 15,000 were treated with the antimalarial drugs hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, or one of those drugs combined with an antibiotic.

Those treatments were linked with a higher risk of dying in the hospital, the study found. About 1 in 6 patients treated with chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine alone died in the hospital, compared to 1 in 11 patients in the control group.

About 1 in 5 patients treated with chloroquine and an antibiotic died and almost 1 in 4 treated with hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic died.

"Previous small-scale studies have failed to identify robust evidence of a benefit and larger, randomized controlled trials are not yet completed," Dr. Frank Ruschitzka, director of the Heart Center at University Hospital Zurich and the study's coauthor, said in a statement.

"However," he said, "we now know from our study that the chance that these medications improve outcomes in COVID-19 is quite low."

President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted hydroxychloroquine as a potential coronavirus cure. Earlier this week he claimed he was taking daily doses of it as a prophylaxis to prevent infection.

There have been no published studies on the use of the antimalarial drug to prevent COVID-19.

"A couple of weeks ago, I started taking it," Trump said. He said he started taking it after consulting the White House doctor, though he didn't say his physician had actually recommended the drug.

Additionally, the study found serious cardiac arrhythmias were more common among patients who received any of the four treatments. The largest increase was among the group treated with hydroxychloroquine and an an antibiotic — 8% of those patients developed a heart arrhythmia, compared to 0.3% of the control group.