In White House Coronavirus Task Force briefings, President Donald Trump has touted the anti-malarial drug chloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19. Just released today, however, were new findings from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the University of Virginia (UVA). Per CNN, the NIH/UVA study reported that patients treated with chloroquine “were no less likely to need mechanical ventilation and had higher death rates compared to those who did not take the drug.”
Another recent study found the drug to be dangerous when given in high doses, and clinical trials with it were discontinued after just six days, according to a report from USA Today. Questions from the public continue to mount.
Why Chloroquine Was Considered for COVID 19 Treatment
Dr. Otto Yang, a professor specializing in infectious disease at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) tells Parentology chloroquine has a unique activity against multiple viruses in the laboratory setting. Yang says “it stops influenza, HIV, dengue virus and chikungunya virus when tested in the lab.”
However, when used in clinical trials for the treatment of these same diseases in humans, “chloroquine failed completely and unambiguously.” Yang says he sees no reason why treating COVID-19 patients with chloroquine would yield a different, or more effective, result.
“The purported evidence for the usefulness [of chloroquine] to date has been two completely biased and flawed small studies from an investigator in France (whose reputation is quite controversial) and one study from China that made the claim of efficacy without actually showing any data at all,” Yang explains. Several other small but more rigorous studies “have failed to show any efficacy,” he adds.
Hydroxychloroquine Side Effects
Dr. John D. Scott, the chair of the department of pharmacology at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, tells Parentology, “There are over 40 side effects associated with hydroxychloroquine dosage, [including] dry cough, hoarseness, fever, difficulty breathing and increased incidence of cardiac arrhythmia.”
Yang emphasizes that torsades de pointes, an arrhythmia, can result in sudden cardiac death. “This cardiac complication risk is higher when combined with azithromycin, as proposed by the dubious French studies.”
Yang goes on to warn that the use of chloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 patients is not something that “we can blindly try ‘because there is nothing to lose.’” In fact, he cautions that one study has already been stopped because it resulted in an increased number of deaths.
And, as reported today by CNN of the NIH/UVA chloroquine study that involved 368 patients “97 patients who took hydroxychloroquine had a 27.8% death rate. The 158 patients who did not take the drug had an 11.4% death rate.”
Study authors from Columbia VA Health Care System in South Carolina, the University of South Carolina and the University of Virginia said in a statement, “An association of increased overall mortality was identified in patients treated with hydroxychloroquine alone. These findings highlight the importance of awaiting the results of ongoing prospective, randomized, controlled studies before widespread adoption of these drugs.”
Where Do Experts Stand Now?
So where do the recent findings about chloroquine used in the treatment of COVID-19 leave us? “Conclusive clinical evidence for its benefits is scant,” Scott says.
But what about its use combined with the antibiotic azithromycin, which has also been a focus of the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefings?
In their reporting on the NIH/UVA study, CNN quoted the study authors as saying, “…we found no evidence that use of hydroxychloroquine, either with or without azithromycin, reduced the risk of mechanical ventilation in patients hospitalized with COVID-19.”
As of now, no medications or vaccines have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to prevent or treat COVID-19, though research around the globe continues.
Chloroquine Covid 19 Treatment — Sources
Dr. Otto Yang, MD, a professor of infectious disease at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Dr. John D. Scott, chair of the department of pharmacology at the University of Washington in Seattle
USA Today Report
Washington Post Report