Hydroxychloroquine linked to increased risk of death in COVID-19 patients

The drugs are approved for treating lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and for preventing and treating malaria, but no large rigorous tests have found them safe or effective for preventing or treating COVID-19.

In addition, those receiving the medications had higher risk of developing abnormal heart rhythms - a known risk factor of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine - compared to people who were not treated with the medications.

Llewelyn added, "If drugs as well-tolerated as chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine could reduce the chances of catching COVID-19, this would be incredibly valuable".

A Wisconsin woman has taken the unproven coronavirus drug hydroxychloroquine for almost two decades for another health condition - and says she was still infected by the virus, according to a report.

Magrini says while the drug was being used in Italy, the agency recommended it only in some patients, preferably on its own or in association with other drugs only in clinical trial settings.

The researchers said that after considering multiple confounding factors when compared with mortality in the control group, hydroxychloroquine, hydroxychloroquine with macrolide, chloroquine, and chloroquine with a macrolide were "independently associated with an increased risk of de-novo ventricular arrhythmia during hospitalization". "Randomised clinical trials are essential to confirm any harms or benefits associated with these agents".

The study, the largest to-date looking at the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, involved an examination of medical records for 96,000 people hospitalized between December 20 and April 14 at 67 facilities around the world for COVID-19 and treated with the antimalaria drugs.

"There has been so much discussion about this drug that I think the scientific and medical community has an obligation to define what the potential benefit or risk is in the best way possible", Barnes said.

As part of the trial, 40,000 healthcare workers from four continents will be given chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, or a placebo.

Hydroxychloroquine is a commonly used drug to treat malaria, but has been dubiously linked to curing coronavirus.

"This is the first large scale study to find statistically robust evidence that treatment with chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine does not benefit patients with COVID-19", Mehra said.

The US president still insists that the use of HCQ to fight COVID-19 is a "game changer" and he slammed an earlier non-peer reviewed study that found a link between the use of the antimalaria drug and an increasing number of deaths among corona-stricken veterans.

Earlier this month, some proponents of hydroxychloroquine seized on a study out of New York University's Langone Health center that threw zinc into the mix with hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, and showed the treated group had a higher rate of survival. A study of 368 USA veterans also showed that the drugs might be potentially harmful. Mehra notes that the study included only people diagnosed with COVID-19, while the President has not been reported to be infected.

These drugs also have potentially serious side effects. Those who took hydroxychloroquine were 34% more likely to die and were 137% more likely to develop heart rhythm problems.

They said this is due to the design of observational studies, and warned that randomised trials are urgently needed to validate the findings.