Hydroxychloroquine may increase death rates among coronavirus patients, a study funded by the National Institutes of Health and the University of Virginia found.

While the research has not been peer reviewed, the results of the study are not promising for the drug that President Donald Trump called a “game changer.”

The anti-malarial drug is traditionally used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, but the Federal Drug Administration issued an emergency-use authorization in treating COVID-19, because anecdotal evidence showed it may have alleviated symptoms in some patients.

In the study of 368 coronavirus patients, 97 patients who took hydroxychloroquine had a 27.8% death rate. The other patients who did not take the drug had an 11.4% death rate.


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“An association of increased overall mortality was identified in patients treated with hydroxychloroquine alone,” wrote the authors, who work at the Columbia Veterans Administration Health Care System in South Carolina and the University of Virginia. “These findings highlight the importance of awaiting the results of ongoing prospective, randomized, controlled studies before widespread adoption of these drugs.”

The researchers also looked into whether or not taking hydroxychloroquine or a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin affected if a patient required a ventilator.

“In this study, 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,” the authors wrote.

A similar study in France found no difference in the death rates of COVID-19 patients who took hydroxychloroquine within 48 hours of being admitted to a hospital and those who did not take the drug, but noted eight patients who took the drug developed abnormal heart rhythms and had to stop taking it.

The optimistic media coverage of the drug has caused people to try to purchase it without first consulting a physician.

“Please note that chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine should only be prescribed by a specialist physician,” Dr. Ngozi Onuoha tweeted March 20. “These are not medications for self-prescribing or self-medication. Complications of acute chloroquine toxicity include abnormal heart rhythm, low blood pressure, depressed myocardial contractility, heart block, abnormal heart beat; seizures, coma, and cardiac or respiratory arrest may occur.”



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