Big study casts more doubt on malaria drugs
Malaria drugs pushed by President Donald Trump as treatments for the coronavirus did not help and were tied to a greater risk of death and heart rhythm problems in a new study of nearly 100,000 patients around the world.
Friday’s report in the journal Lancet is not a rigorous test of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, but it is by far the largest look at their use in real-world settings, spanning 671 hospitals on six continents.
“Not only is there no benefit, but we saw a very consistent signal of harm,” said one study leader, Dr. Mandeep Mehra, a heart specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Researchers estimate that the death rate attributable to use of the drugs, with or without an antibiotic such as azithromycin, is roughly 13% versus 9% for patients not taking them. The risk of developing a serious heart rhythm problem is more than five times greater.
Even though it is only observational, the size and scope of the study gives it a lot of impact, said Dr. David Aronoff, infectious diseases chief at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Trump repeatedly has pushed the malaria drugs, and has said he is taking hydroxychloroquine to try to prevent infection or minimize symptoms from the coronavirus.
The drugs are approved for treating lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and for preventing and treating malaria, but no large rigorous tests have found them safe or effective for preventing or treating COVID-19. People sick enough to be hospitalized with the coronavirus are not the same as healthy people taking the drugs in other situations, so safety cannot be assumed from prior use, Mehra said.
These drugs also have potentially serious side effects.
Friday’s report in the journal Lancet showed the drug hydroxychloroquine did not help treat the coronavirus.