Why Hydroxychloroquine Is Not Being Recommended For COVID-19 Treatment
In the quest to find a treatment for COVID-19, there have been many existing drugs forwarded as potential therapeutic options. One such drug is hydroxychloroquine, a medication that has been in use for decades to prevent and treat malaria, as well as for the management of certain autoimmune disorders like lupus. When it comes to these uses, the drug has been very effective and is approved by the FDA. However, as far as treatment for COVID-19, there has been a great deal of debate as to whether it is helpful, and the FDA has only issued an emergency use order.
After initially approving its use in hospitalized COVID-19 patients when clinical trials weren’t available, the FDA has decided that hydroxychloroquine is not yet proven as an effective option for the treatment or prevention of Covid-19 and has cautioned medical professionals regarding its use.
Why is that?
Though the drug has shown promise in treating malaria, many patients have experienced potentially serious arrhythmias known as long QT syndrome and ventricular tachycardia. Long QT syndrome is a heart rhythm irregularity in which it takes longer for the heart to recharge after each beat. Ventricular tachycardia is the extremely fast heart rate due to misfiring electrical signals in the ventricles (lower chambers) of the heart. These are both arrhythmias we normally treat as part of our electrophysiology practice but are relatively uncommon when compared to more prevalent arrhythmias like Atrial Fibrillation / AFib. Azithromycin, a common antibiotic often being prescribed alongside hydroxychloroquine may also cause or worsen long QT syndrome.
Research on long-term hydroxychloroquine use for both malaria and autoimmune treatment had also shown the potential for prolonged QT and other cardiac arrhythmias in the past. However, the benefits typically outweighed the risks for these other conditions. The FDA is not convinced that that is the case with COVID-19.
What to Do?
If you are taking hydroxychloroquine (for malaria or autoimmune disorders) and/or azithromycin (for infections) for the treatment of something other than COVID-19, and you are under the care of a qualified physician, you should continue to do so. You should not, however, try to acquire these drugs through online or illicit pharmacies. If you are prescribed these drugs outside of a hospital setting, please consult with your regular care team. Currently, the FDA is only recommending their use for clinical trials and in emergency situations at hospitals.
Do We Have a Go-To COVID-19 Treatment?
The honest answer is no, not yet. There is a drug that seem to be reducing the length of hospital stay in some patients, but the drug’s virus fighting properties are still unclear. Other drugs are being evaluated for their effectiveness. We still do not have a complete timeline on the development of an effective vaccine, though many companies are furiously working on one.
Of course, it goes without saying that no-one should take hydroxychloroquine or related drugs without the advice of their physician.