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The malaria drug hydroxychloroquine it is not effective in preventing patients from contracting the coronavirus, a new study suggests.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the globe, government and health agencies rushed to find a means of stemming the infection using existing drug treatments. Initial studies, particularly in France and China, suggested that the use of hydroxychloroquine in combination with antibiotics could speed up recovery.
A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine shows that, at least, the drug is not effective in preventing a person from contracting the virus once exposed to it.
“This was a large, randomized controlled trial done by very good people. Hydroxychloroquine did not provide a notable advantage,” Dr. William Schaffner, a specialist at Vanderbilt University, said.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Minnesota and Canada, used 821 participants who had been exposed to the virus. The participants were health care workers and people who may have been exposed to an infected family member.
None of the participants, ranging from ages 33 to 50, exhibited symptoms and did not exhibit any underlying health problems. Within four days of exposure, researchers randomly provided either hydroxychloroquine or a placebo.
Researchers found “hydroxychloroquine did not prevent illness compatible with COVID-19 or confirmed infection when used as postexposure prophylaxis within four days after exposure.”
“The take-home message for the general public is that if you’re exposed to someone with COVID-19, hydroxychloroquine is not an effective post-exposure, preventive therapy,” the lead author of the study, Dr. David R. Boulware, from the University of Minnesota, said in an interview with the New York Times.
The greatest concern in using the drug is the laundry list of possible side effects, with particular focus on the possibility of heart failure, mild or severe bronchospasm or suicidal thoughts. The study found that more participants – roughly 40 percent vs 17 percent – were likely to suffer from side effects, but none exhibited the more serious effects.
The president’s support for the drug led to the Food and Drug Administration fast-tracking research on the drug’s effectiveness. The study did not address if hydroxychloroquine can prevent infection if taken before exposure, but other studies are addressing that possibility.