Update: Hydroxychloroquine safety study retracted by major medical journal

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In a new study from Brigham and Women’s hospital, nearly 16,000 patient outcomes were analyzed that were diagnosed with COVID-19 and received the drug hydroxychloroquine.

Instead of improving, patients were four times more likely to experience dangerous heart irregularity, compared to those not teated with the antimalarial drug.

Patients in the study that were given hydroxychloroquine were also more likely to die.

The study is recently published in the medical journal The Lancet  and is the most recent to address a hot topic about whether the medication, which is also prescribed to treat autoimmune disorders, should be  used to treat COVID-19.

Mandeep R. Mehra, a corresponding study author and executive director of the Brigham’s Center for Advanced Heart  Disease said the drug, or any regimen including a chloroquine,  did not help “no matter which way you examine the data.”

Patients from six continents included 

The researchers looked at data from 671 hospitals that included six continents and 96,000 patients who were in the hospital and diagnosed with COVID-19.

More than 15,000 out of the 96,000 patients were given the drug, with or without antibiotics; 10,698 patients taking the drug or a combination  died in the hospital.

Still no conclusions

So what does this study really mean? Not much - and the reason is because the analysis was observational. 

Until clinical trials are done the authors are being careful to say not much more than it shouldn't be used for COVID-19. There' still no 'hard-core' conclusions about whether or not hydroxychloroquine is safe or even effective for treating COVID-19.

Much of the controversy surrounding  the drug stems from the fact that it’s been around for many years and has been taken by patients; without any adverse effects. Additionally, there is no definitive treatment protocols for COVID-19, leaving clinicians grasping for treatments that just might help and make sense clinically,

A brand name for the drug is Plaquenil that is known to have antiviral properties. Some if it's uses include as a prevention for the malaria virus, treating rheumathoid arthritis, lupus and juvenile arthritis. 

According to the American Academy of  Rheumtology, how the drug works to treat autoimmune diseases isn't even known and heart rhythm problems are rare; usually when the hydroxychloroquin is combined with "other medications". 

More research is suggested to clarify the possibility that the antibiotic Azithromycin contributed to ventricular arrhythmias among the patient outcomes analyzed.    

Reference:  https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)31174-0/fulltext

Updated 6/4/2020: