The much-touted anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) has no effect on the mortality rates of patients with Covid-19, according to a study of nine hospitals in the Netherlands.
The study, led by infectious diseases expert Dr Edgar Peters of the Amsterdam University Medical Centre (UMC) is currently in pre-print stage, which means it has not yet been peer reviewed.
The researchers looked at data from nine hospitals in the Netherlands, two of which never prescribed HCQ and seven which prescribed the drug routinely – three immediately on a positive test and four only when the patient’s condition deteriorated.
The drug has aroused great interest as the pandemic proceeded, not least from US president Donald Trump, who claimed to have undergone a five-day prophylactic course. However the drug, in both of its forms, the HCQ and the more concentrated chloroquine, has some serious side effects, including cardiac damage.
The data ranged from 27 February when the first case was reported in the Netherlands to 15 May, when government guidelines no longer supported the use of HCQ. In all, the data on 1,893 patients was included.
On initial examination, it appeared that mortality among the 1,552 subjects at HCQ hospitals was 23.4%, whereas it was 17% among the 341 subjects from the non-HCQ hospitals.
However, once the figures were adjusted for age, sex and co-morbidities – pre-existing conditions like diabetes and cardiac disease likely to increase the severity of Covid-19 – there was very little difference at all in mortality rates. Likewise, there was no difference between those who received HCQ immediately on testing positive and those who received the drug only when their condition deteriorated.
In other words, the use of HCQ on patients with Covid-19, either immediately or only when symptoms increased, made no appreciable difference to the patients’ chances of survival.
“This clearly shows that prescribing the drug had no positive effect,” another of the researchers, Jonne Sikkens, told De Volkskrant.
“Our conclusion would be to stop using it in the treatment of Covid-19.”