Individuals infected with COVID-19 and taking the potential coronavirus treatment hydroxychloroquine had higher death rates than patients who did not take the drug, according to the findings of a new study.
Patients not only had a higher likelihood of dying if they took hydroxychloroquine, but the drug did not appear to lower their chance of needing a ventilator when their illness progressed, researchers from the University of South Carolina and the Dorn Research Institute indicate in a report (PDF) published this month.
The study involved a review of nearly 400 veterans hospitalized with COVID-19 infection in all U.S. Veterans Health Administration medical centers through April 11, 2020. Patients were separated into three groups, including those given hydroxychloroquine alone, given hydroxychloroquine in combination with azithromycin, and those given no hydroxychloroquine. Azithromycin is a class of antibiotic used to treat infections.
According to their findings, patients given hydroxychloroquine had higher death rates and were no less likely to need mechanical ventilation than patients who didn’t take the drug.
Death rates were 27.8% for those taking only hydroxychloroquine and 22.1% for the hydroxychloroquine plus azithromycin. However, the death rate among patients not taking hydroxychloroquine was only 11.4%.
Rates of patients needing mechanical ventilation were 13% in the hydroxychloroquine group, 7% in the hydroxychloroquine plus azithromycin group, and 14% in the group not taking hydroxychloroquine.
Risk of death from any cause was higher in the hydroxychloroquine group, but not in the hydroxychloroquine plus azithromycin group. It was the lowest in the group that did not take hydroxychloroquine.
Hydroxychloroquine is a drug used to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. However, recent public statements made by President Donald Trump indicating the drug can treat and save patients affected with the COVID-19 virus, leading many to believe the drug is a miracle cure for the virus.
In reality, there is limited observational evidence the drug is an effective therapy for COVID-19. In fact, another recent study in France found patients didn’t gain an advantage from taking hydroxychloroquine. In addition, some patients developed abnormal heart rhythms and had to stop taking it.
Doctors and health experts warned there was no evidence indicating the drug could treat COVID-19 and called for it to be studied to determine its safety and efficacy.
“These findings highlight the importance of awaiting the results of ongoing prospective, randomized, controlled studies before widespread adoption of these drugs,” wrote study authors.
The COVID-19 pandemic has infected more than 800,000 Americans leading to nearly 45,000 deaths. Globally, more than 2.6 million people have been sickened by the coronavirus leading to roughly 183,000 deaths.
There are currently no products approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prevent or treat COVID-19. Research is currently underway to determine if there is an effective treatment for the virus.
The study was posted on medrxiv.org, a preprint server. It has not yet been published in a peer reviewed journal.