I know we have been hearing a lot about hydroxychloroquine as a preventative for coronavirus infection but let’s focus on the science today.
What is it?
Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) is a medication approved by the FDA that has been used since the 1950’s to prevent and treat malaria (a parasitic infection). As an anti-parasitic, the mechanism of how it works is not fully understood, but it is known to regulate and inhibit the activity of the immune system. This ability to down-regulate the body’s immune response is why HCQ is also used to treat auto-immune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis (where a person’s own immune system mistakenly attacks healthy body cells).
Common side effects include headache, skin rash, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting. One of the rarer, yet more serious side effects is vision loss due to retinal toxicity.
So, do we know if it works to prevent or treat coronavirus?
A clinical trial out of France, published on March 20, claimed to show significant reduction in virus present in nasal swabs of patients treated with a combination of HCQ and azithromycin, a common antibiotic.
A study published on June 3 in the New England Journal of Medicine tells a different story, however. This study involved 821 persons and was conducted as a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial (meaning neither the patient or scientists knew if the participant was receiving HCQ or a sugar pill).
When participants were given HCQ or a placebo within 4 days of exposure to the virus, it was found that 12% of those who took HCQ developed COVID-19, compared to 14% of those who were given the placebo. In other words, there was no significant benefit found by this study.
However, anecdotal evidence and other studies continue, so I’m sure the story does not end here.
Stay safe and well, my friends!