The bloom appears to be off the rose when it comes to the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. President Trump has repeatedly touted it as a possible treatment for the novel coronavirus, but a yet-to-be-peer-reviewed study released Tuesday found there were more deaths among COVID-19 patients at US veteran hospitals who were given hydroxychloroquine versus those who received standard care. Specifically, roughly 28% who were given hydroxychloroquine plus usual care died; 11% of those who got only usual care died. What else is happening on the hydroxychloroquine front:
- On March 21, the president tweeted that hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin, "taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine," in terms of their potential as a coronavirus treatment. NPR reports that April 21 brought a starkly different take from experts sitting on a panel assembled by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. They recommended doctors not use that combo due to possible toxicities.
- Their assessment: "The combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin was associated with QTc prolongation in patients with COVID-19." QTc prolongation is tied to abnormalities in heart rhythm or sudden cardiac death, reports Forbes.
- The panel also looked at using hydroxychloroquine on its own but determined there was "insufficient clinical data to recommend either for or against."
- Forbes adds that the panel stated no drug has yet been found that is safe and effective in treating COVID-19.
- CNN reports both the president and Fox News have quieted regarding the drug. The latter had "weeks of unrelenting coverage" on it, but Oliver Darcy writes that Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity didn't bring up the VA hospital study on their Fox News shows Tuesday night, though they've frequently spoken of the drug in the past. He cites CNN's Betsy Klein in saying Trump's last mention of the drug came a week ago.
- But hydroxychloroquine and the VA study were discussed on Fox & Friends on Wednesday. The Daily Beast reports co-host Brian Kilmeade asked Dr. Mehmet Oz about them. Oz noted the VA study "looked at older and quite a bit sicker patients" and said some other studies found a degree of effectiveness when it was administered early on. "The fact of the matter is, we don't know," Oz said, adding, "Thankfully these medications are prescription-only, so doctors are desperately awaiting the completion of the higher-quality randomized trials, and we've covered them on the show several times."
- And yet KSL reports the Utah Department of Health on Tuesday said it was working to purchase enough hydroxychloroquine to treat 200,000 coronavirus patients in the state. The contract, however, hasn't been finalized.
- Want to dig in on the subject more? Science Magazine talks to genetic cardiologist Michael Ackerman, who treats Mayo Clinic patients who are predisposed to heart arrhythmias and knows of hydroxychloroquine's "potentially fatal side effect." Read the full piece here.
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