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Latest large hydroxychloroquine study suggests it does not help treat COVID-19

Published on 11/05/20 at 12:39pm
Photo Simon Davis/DFID

The results of another study into the use of hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 patients has cast further doubts on its effectiveness in treating the virus.

The research, titled the “Observational Study of Hydroxychloroquine in Hospitalized Patients with Covid-19”, was published in The New England Journal of Medicine. It took place at a large medical center in New York City but excluded patients who were intubated, died, or discharged within 24 hours after presentation to the emergency department.

45.8% of the 1,376 remaining patients were treated within 24 hours of arriving in the emergency room, with 85.9% receiving treatment within 48 hours.  

The researchers concluded that: “Hydroxychloroquine administration was not associated with either a greatly lowered or an increased risk of the composite end point of intubation or death. Randomized, controlled trials of hydroxychloroquine in patients with Covid-19 are needed.”

The researchers have also updated their guidance at their medical centre to remove the suggestion that patients with COVID-19 should be treated with hydroxychloroquine. They reiterated that a randomised clinical trial is the best way to further research this treatment, as it minimises two major problems in observational studies such as unmeasured confounding and bias.

The initial evidence that pointed to hydroxychloroquine working as a coronavirus treatment came from France, with Professor Didier Raoult’s study of 36 people. Raoult said he cured 100% of the patients but left out that six dropped out after the first six days and they died, were transferred to the ICU or couldn't tolerate the drug.

Another study out of Wuhan also received positive attention, where researchers tested the drug in 62 people with mild to moderate COVID-19 in a controlled studied. In patients who received the drug, the time to clinical recovery was significantly shorter.

However, a study in Brazil was called off after it suffered 11 fatalities while another Chinese study showed that hydroxychloroquine did not speed up recovery from the coronavirus.

These studies led to The Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine to sum up that no current study has supported the view that “hydroxychloroquine is effective in the management of even mild COVID-19 disease.” This was followed by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), on 22 April, releasing treatment guidelines for the use of hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 patients, saying it should not be used due to “potential toxicities.”

Conor Kavanagh

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