With President Trump pushing hard for hydroxychloroquine to be used as the treatment for COVID-19, it’s important to understand where we currently stand with regards to potential for treatment.
Hydroxychloroquine was approved for use in the United States in 1955 and was initially used to treat malaria. This drug is categorized as an antimalarial and is listed by the World Health Organization as an essential medicine. It has also been used to boost, activate or restore normal immune response function for patients with autoimmune diseases. So for example, patients with HIV are prescribed the drug to help reduce an overactive immune response. It’s important to note, that as of now, the drug has also been approved by the FDA in treatment for diseases like Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
So why is President Trump so adamant about this drug being a viable treatment?
The primary study being cited as a positive indicator for the drug’s effectiveness was one conducted at Renmin Hospital at Wuhan University. The study used 62 patients who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, half of which were placed on a hydroxychloroquine regiment to compliment standard treatment and half were in a control group and received standard treatment only. The trial period was conducted over a period of 5 days.
According to the study, the experimental group showed a reduction in associated symptoms and had a shorter time to recover in comparison to those in the control group. In other words, those who took hydroxychloroquine showed improvement over those who did not. However, the doctor who reported the study, Dr. Zhan Zhang, acknowledged that much larger studies must be done before a definitive statement can be made. It should also be noted that this result was primarily in patients with milder cases of COVID-19.
Due to the small sample size, the results have been deemed questionable by the medical community. Thus, testing of hydroxychloroquine became all the more rigorous and urgent.
Recently, a more substantial study was conducted by a French research team. The French research time organized a study which pulled in patients from 4 different hospitals and accumulated a sample size of 181 patients who were diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia (COVID-19). 84 of the patients were placed on a hydroxychloroquine regiment to compliment standard treatment and 97 patients continued to receive standard treatment.
It is important to note that these groups were balanced with regards to severity of condition so as not to put more emphasis on one trial group over the other. Within 7 days, 16 patients who received the treatment became critically ill or died. Within those same 7 days, 21 patients who did not receive the treatment became critically ill or died. To boil that number down further, 3 patients receiving the treatment died and 4 patients who did not also died.
Brass tacks? These results do not support the findings of the study out of Wuhan.
So, what should you take away from this? The truth is, as more studies are completed, hydroxychloroquine is looking less and less promising with regards to COVID-19. It still may be tempting to go see your doctor and seek a prescription, but you should let the research guide your decision making. Remember there are currently many patients who receive this drug for FDA approved medical conditions and they must continue to take priority.