The news is ablaze with word on two clinical studies about whether hydroxychloroquine is beneficial in treating COVID-19. The outcomes of the studies is highly politicized, and so the details of what the researchers found are getting overlooked. The devil – and possibly an angel – could be in the details.
1. Neither the French study nor the American study has yet been peer-reviewed.
2. In the American study:
a. The patients who received the drug were sicker than the patients who did not. They were also more likely to be male.
b. The patients who received the drug, with or without an antibiotic that might help control secondary bacterial infection, received no benefit from either treatment and in fact the hydroxychloroquine treatment was associated with worse death rates. Patients taking the hydroxychloroquine had more heart problems than patients who did not.
c. You can read it yourself: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.16.20065920v1
3. In the French study
a. As in the US study, the patients who received the drug were also already very sick.
b. The research was stopped early because of heart problems for people who received the drug. This is consistent with the heart problems found in the American study.
1. The studies still haven’t been peer-reviewed by physicians or scientists with appropriate expertise.
2. Hydroxychloroquine is probably not a good option for elderly male patients who are so sick that they need to be hospitalized to treat COVID-19.
3. We do not know if hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine could be used for other purposes,
a. Taken by healthcare workers at high risk of exposure, to prevent infection given that we don’t have a vaccine.
b. Taken earlier during infection, before people are so sick as to be hospitalized;
c. Taken by women who do not have heart disease.
d. This is the angel – the drug(s) might still be useful under other circumstances. The question is whether anyone will be able to test them for any of these different purposes, given the political climate.
4. As always, anybody taking any prescription drug should do so under a doctor’s supervision and be apprised of the risks and benefits.
5. As always, I’m just a PhD, not an MD. Consult a physician before undertaking new activities related to your health.