‘Miracle drug’ leads to more virus deaths

A malaria medication touted by President Donald Trump as a "miracle drug" for curing COVID-19 showed no benefit, according to a US coronavirus study.

A nationwide study conducted at a hospital for veterans gave hydroxychloroquine, commonly used at low doses to help people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, to 368 patients who were all male veterans.

Researchers analysed Veterans Health Administration medical centre records of those confirmed to have COVID-19, and died or were discharged by April 11.

The medicine, which was originally developed to treat malaria, was hailed by Mr Trump as a "miracle drug" after one French study claimed it was a potential coronavirus cure.

"What do you have to lose?" he said during one of his daily coronavirus briefings earlier this month. "I'm not looking at it one way or another. If it does work, it would be a shame if we didn't do it early. But what do I know, I'm not a doctor. But I have common sense."

But according to the study, 28 per cent of the veterans who were given hydroxychloroquine plus routine care died, compared to 11 per cent of those getting routine care alone.

And 22 per cent who received both hydroxychloroquine plus the antibiotic azithromycin died, though researchers said the difference between the group and usual care was significant.

Hydroxychloroquine made no difference in preventing needs for a ventilator.

One rare potential side effect of the drug, particularly when taken in conjunction with azithromycin, can be ventricular arrhythmia, which in some patients can prove fatal. A rare side effect means it occurs between one in 1000 and one in 10,000 cases.

However researchers did not track side effects.

Hydroxychloroquine is most commonly sold under the brand name Plaquenil, manufactured by Sanofi. Picture: John Locher/AP
Hydroxychloroquine is most commonly sold under the brand name Plaquenil, manufactured by Sanofi. Picture: John Locher/AP

 


Studies in other countries have yielded similar results, diminishing hope for hydroxychloroquine and its close relative chloroquine.

According to the LA Times, a French study found hydroxychloroquine reduced neither deaths nor ICU admissions among patients who received it.

A Brazilian study was shut down after two deaths and heart problems among patients who were given a high dose of chloroquine.

A Chinese study showed patients who received the drug didn't recover any faster or better than patients who didn't get the drug.

Another hydroxychloroquine study is currently taking place on 20 patients at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse. Chief of infectious diseases Dr Stephen Thomas said researchers hope to know within a few weeks "if it's safe and has a clinical benefit".

Dr Anthony Fauci, a top infectious disease expert and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, has previously warned against unproven "anecdotal" stories of individuals who have reported success with hydroxychloroquine.

He said there are concerns about side effects and toxicities, and that it also made it more difficult for those who do need the drug to access it.

Originally published as 'Miracle drug' leads to more virus deaths



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