HCQ for COVID-19: New study casts doubts

indica News Bureau-

A new study has added to the debate raging over the efficacy of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine or HCQ as preventive medicine against COVID-19.

The new study, published on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded: “After high-risk or moderate-risk exposure to Covid-19, hydroxychloroquine did not prevent illness compatible with COVID-19 or confirmed infection when used as post-exposure prophylaxis within 4 days after exposure.”

It is being billed as the first double-blind randomized, placebo-controlled trial of hydroxychloroquine in combating COVID-19.

“We enrolled 821 asymptomatic participants,” the authors of the study wrote in the Results section. “Overall, 87.6% of the participants (719 of 821) reported a high-risk exposure to a confirmed Covid-19 contact. The incidence of new illness compatible with Covid-19 did not differ significantly between participants receiving hydroxychloroquine (49 of 414 [11.8%]) and those receiving placebo (58 of 407 [14.3%]); the absolute difference was −2.4 percentage points (95% confidence interval, −7.0 to 2.2; P=0.35). Side effects were more common with hydroxychloroquine than with placebo (40.1% vs. 16.8%), but no serious adverse reactions were reported.”

Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told Stat, a health-oriented news website: “This is not the end of the story with hydroxychloroquine.”

But given the data, he said, if there is any benefit to giving the drug to prevent infection, “it’s going to be small,” Stat reported.

HCQ shot into the novel coronavirus spotlight when President Donald Trump touted it as a “game-changer”. Trump had pinged India, which manufactures roughly 70 percent of the world’s HCQ because of the widespread prevalence of malaria, and New Delhi then eased export restrictions for the drug.

The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, has signaled a resumption of trials into whether HCQ works against COVID-19 after the respected medical journal The Lancet expressed concern over another study, published on May 22 by Chicago-based company Surgisphere, that found dangers of cardiac disorders when HCQ was used to treat COVID-19.

Surgisphere founder Dr. Sapan Desai was one of the co-authors of that study.

It remains to be seen how WHO and the global healthcare research community react to the new study.

A number of senior healthcare professionals pointed out to Stat that just because HCQ does not seem to work in the post-exposure scenario does not mean it will not work if administered before exposure.

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