You may have heard news reports that two closely related malaria drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, might treat COVID-19. But despite what some people have said, there is not yet any good evidence that these medications work.
In one French study, doctors treated 20 patients with hydroxycholoroquine. Some patients also got an antibiotic (azithromycin). The authors found that some of the people treated with hydroxycholoroquine tested negative for the virus sooner than 16 people who refused the treatment or were being treated at a different health facility.
The study DID NOT say whether the people who got hydroxychloroquine felt better, spent less time in the hospital, or we were less likely to die of COVID-19, all information we would need to say a treatment works. (In fact, some of the patients treated with the medication had to stop the study because they were transferred to intensive care, died, or experienced side effects.)
Meanwhile, China has approved hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 based on ongoing clinical trials there. However, none of these study results are publicly available, making it impossible for doctors outside of China to decide if they agree with their conclusions.
There are some reasons to hope that a drug like hydroxychloroquine will help, but until doctors can show that it actually makes things better for people with COVID-19, we should make sure that it remains in the hands of people who need it for serious conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Ongoing clinical trials in the United States should give us important information soon!
Last reviewed: March 24, 2020 10:30pm
Scientific review: GSN, ERS, JAB