Big study casts more doubt on malaria drugs

Baltimore Sun - - CORONAVIRU­S OUTBREAK - By Marilynn Mar­chione

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.

RAFIQ MAQBOOL/AP

Fri­day’s re­port in the jour­nal Lancet showed the drug hy­drox­y­chloro­quine did not help treat the coro­n­avirus.

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