Two recent studies support the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 that can reduce the chance of hospitalization or death, refuting narratives in the media that the drug is dangerous and being pushed by President Donald Trump for political reasons.
Hydroxychloroquine is a relatively cheap and readily available drug that has been used for decades to treat malaria. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors around the world have vouched for positive results seen in patients who take it.
What do the studies say?
A study out of Italy found that HCQ reduces by 30% the risk of death for COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized. The result comes from an observational study of more than 3,400 COVID-19 patients in 33 Italian hospitals.
"We observed that patients treated with hydroxychloroquine had a 30% lower in-hospital mortality rate compared to those not receiving this treatment," said Augusto Di Castelnuovo, epidemiologist at the Neuromed Department of Epidemiology and Prevention, currently at Mediterranea Cardiocentro in Naples. "Our data were subjected to extremely rigorous statistical analysis, taking into account all the variables and possible confounding factors that could come into play. The drug efficacy was evaluated in various subgroups of patients. The positive results of hydroxychloroquine treatment remained unchanged, especially in those patients showing a more evident inflammatory state at the moment of admission to hospital."
Another study, which looked at outpatient cases in New Jersey, found that a prescription of hydroxychloroquine reduced the risk of hospitalization by 47%. Because the study was conducted early in the pandemic, when mostly only symptomatic people were being tested, researchers believe their sample of more than 1,200 patients represents people with relatively more advanced cases of COVID-19.
The study concluded that hydroxychloroquine can be effective when given early after a COVID-19 diagnosis, and the study found there was no increase in negative side effects for people who took the drug. One concern about HCQ has been the potential for it to cause heart problems in some patients.
"In this observational study of 1,274 COVID-19 patients, hydroxychloroquine given as an outpatient treatment was associated with a 47% reduction in the hazard of hospitalization," researchers wrote. "Adverse events were not increased (2% QTc prolongation events, 0% arrhythmias)."
The Food and Drug Administration has cautioned against the use of HCQ outside of hospital or clinical trial settings because of concerns about effects on the heart. The FDA revoked an emergency use authorization for the drug in June.