By Alan Lyndon
A study released today supports the use of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) as a treatment for COVID-19.
The relatively small trial conducted in China included 62 patients positively identified with the COVID-19 disease. All of the 31 patients given HCQ experienced improvements in cough, fever and pneumonia as compared with the 31 patients that did not receive the drug.
“Despite our small number of cases, the potential of HCQ in the treatment of COVID-19 has been partially confirmed,” said the authors of the study, which was published on medRxiv, an online server for medical papers. “Considering there is no better option at present, it is a promising practice to apply HCQ to COVID-19 (patients) under reasonable management.”
The authors specified “partially confirmed” to allow for “large scale clinical and basic research” to confirm their findings.
The results of this study are “going to send a ripple of excitement out through the treating community,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, told the New York Times. “I think it will reinforce the inclination of many people across the country who are not in a position to enter their patients into clinical trials but have already begun using hydroxychloroquine,” he said.
The study authors also highlighted additional findings to support the use of HCQ. First, in a follow up survey that included 80 patients taking oral HCQ for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), none of those patients had contracted COVID-19 or any related symptoms.
“In addition, among the 178 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 pneumonia in our hospital, none were receiving HCQ treatment before admission.”
If HCQ is an effective treatment for COVID-19, the reasons are unclear.
“We don’t know which of the pharmacologic aspects of hydroxychloroquine are most active, the antiviral part, or the immunomodulatory part,” Dr. Schaffner told the New York Times. “We don’t know, but it does reinforce the notion, as the authors say briefly, it reinforces the thinking about the nature of many of these pneumonias we are seeing, which seem to have an immune basis, as opposed to being secondary bacterial pneumonia, which we see so often in influenza.”