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Trump-touted drug linked to deaths, heart risks in COVID-19 study

Anti-malaria drugs that President Donald Trump has touted for treatment of COVID-19 were linked to an increased risk of death and heart ailments in a study.

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine didn’t benefit patients with the coronavirus, either alone or in combination with an antibiotic, according to the study published Friday by The Lancet medical journal.

Researchers are searching through available options to treat the coronavirus, which has killed more than 330,000 people, including drugs such as the anti-malarials that are also already approved to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Trump’s endorsement has led many people to take the medications without scientific proof of their benefit.

The study looked at the records of 15,000 people who had been treated with the anti-malarials and one of two antibiotics that have sometimes been paired with them. Treatment with any combination of the four drugs was associated with a higher risk of death than seen in 81,000 patients who didn’t receive them.

The biggest risk increase was seen in the group treated with hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic, where 8% of patients who got the combination developed a heart arrhythmia, compared with 0.3% of those in the comparison group. The drugs should only be used for COVID-19 treatment as part of robust studies that will definitively show their impact, the researchers said.

Authors of a separate study that supported the use of anti-malaria drugs with antibiotics for COVID-19 requested that their paper be withdrawn, according to the Retraction Watch website. The paper had been posted online May 11 and had not been reviewed or published in a medical journal.

The lead author of the study, Benjamin Davido of the Hopital Raymond Poincare near Paris, declined to comment when reached by telephone. The paper’s text has been replaced with a statement that the authors intend to revise the manuscript because of “controversy about hydroxychloroquine and the retrospective nature of their study.”

Only one drug, Gilead Sciences Inc.’s remdesivir, has been shown to benefit coronavirus patients in a clinical trial. It reduced patients’ recovery time from an average of 15 days to 11 days in that study.

Trump said this month that he’s been taking hydroxychloroquine in an effort to ward off the coronavirus.


(Geraldine Amiel contributed to this story.)


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