The anti-malarial drug promoted by President Donald Trump as a COVID-19 treatment has been linked to higher death rates and heart rhythm problems among coronavirus patients, a global study suggests.
The report in the Lancet medical journal is not a rigorous test of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine but an observational one.
However, it is by far the largest look at their use in real-world settings, studying 96,000 patients at 671 hospitals on six continents.
One leader of the study, Dr Mandeep Mehra, a heart specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, said: “Not only is there no benefit, but we saw a very consistent signal of harm.”
Researchers estimate that the death rate attributable to use of the drugs, with or without an antibiotic such as azithromycin, is roughly 13% versus 9% for patients not taking them.
The risk of developing a serious heart rhythm problem is more than five times greater.
Even though it is only observational, the size and scope of the study gives it a lot of impact, said Dr David Aronoff, infectious diseases chief at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre.
“It really does give us some degree of confidence that we are unlikely to see major benefits from these drugs in the treatment of COVID-19 and possibly harm,” said Dr Aronoff, who was not involved in the research.
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