U.S. President Donald Trump’s alleged hydroxychloroquine regimen isn’t as safe as he might have some people believing. A new study published Friday in The Lancet medical journal reports that COVID-19 patients who received the antimalarial drug as part of their treatment plan were at a higher risk of death, compared to those who were not taking the drug. Patients who took hydroxychloroquine, or a closely related drug called chloroquine, were also more likely to develop irregular heart rhythms.
The study looked at more than 96,000 patients hospitalized in 671 hospitals across six continents. During trials at the Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and other hospitals, where nearly 14,900 patients were treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine either as the only drug treatment or in combination with a macrolide antibiotic, almost 10,700 of those patients died, according to the study.
Based on the study’s findings, which accounted for factors including race, age, sex, and any underlying health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, patients treated with hydroxychloroquine saw a 34% increase in their risk of mortality. What’s more, patients who took the drug also saw a 137% increased risk for irregular heartbeat. The study included patients who were hospitalized between December 20, 2019 and April 14, 2020, and who tested positive for COVID-19. The mean age of patients was 54 years old, with more than half of them men.
These findings came to light just as the U.S. president continues to tout the drug as a preventative treatment for COVID-19, and said he takes the medication daily, despite medical experts warning against doing so.
Trump’s comments have already scared some people into self-medicating. In March, an Arizona man died and his wife was hospitalized in critical condition after the couple took chloroquine phosphate in an attempt to prevent COVID-19. The hospital system Banner Health said the drug they took was not the pharmaceutical version, but “an additive commonly used at aquariums to clean fish tanks,” CNN reported. The wife told NBC News they learned about chloroquine from a Trump news conference and began taking it because they “were afraid of getting sick.”
As recently as this past Tuesday, Trump said during a cabinet meeting that, “Hydroxychloroquine is used by thousands and thousands of front-line workers, so that hopefully they don’t catch this horrible disease or whatever you want to call it.” But these claims are false. As The New York Times reports, there is no evidence that the drug is being used on a widespread basis for preventative and treatment purposes.
Health Canada has issued a safety alert concerning the drugs, noting it's "concerned that some people may be directly buying and using chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine to prevent or treat COVID-19" and that both can have serious side effects and "should only be used under the supervision of a physician." Remember, as yet, there's no drug authorized by Health Canada to treat coronavirus.
Another study, published last week in the JAMA Network found the use of hydroxychloroquine on COVID-19 patients led to both mortality and cardiac arrest.