Hydroxychloroquine: Exploring the Studies and Benefits Against COVID-19

Hydroxychloroquine, also known by its brand name Plaquenil, has seen a significant increase in attention as a potential treatment for coronavirus (COVID-19). As the novel virus continues to spread at alarming rates, researchers are searching for ways to contain the virus, improve care for infected individuals, and find effective treatments. One drug that has been assumed to help treat the novel virus is hydroxychloroquine, an old antimalarial drug. Despite being around since the 1950s, hydroxychloroquine has recently seen a surge in attention after a number of studies suggested it could reduce symptoms and mortality rates of those infected with COVID-19.

The focus of many people is to understand the reports regarding hydroxychloroquine, as well as to explore the efficacy and studies of different clinical trials. This article will discuss the current research and studies on hydroxychloroquine and assess whether there is evidence of the drug being beneficial in fighting the novel virus.

Understanding Hydroxychloroquine

Hydroxychloroquine, one of the earliest antimalarials, is an oral drug that is commonly used in the treatment of rheumatic diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. It is relatively inexpensive and non-toxic; however, it can cause side effects such as nausea, headaches, and stomach problems. Hydroxychloroquine has been used in the past to treat influenza, Ebola, and HIV, among other infectious illnesses.

Recent Studies Regarding Hydroxychloroquine and Its Effects on COVID-19

As soon as the novel virus spread across the world, research began to embrace hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for the disease. A review of 12 studies on hydroxychloroquine, published in Lancet Rheumatology, found that the drug had a “modest benefit” in infected patients. The researchers concluded that the drug could potentially be used as an adjunct treatment for COVID-19, if it is used in combination with other treatments or therapies.

The same review also found that hydroxychloroquine can be effective in certain cases to reduce infectiousness of the novel virus in patients with COVID-19 symptoms. Additional research has also shown that hydroxychloroquine is generally well-tolerated in terms of side effects, which is an encouraging sign.

Other randomized controlled trials have found that the use of hydroxychloroquine has been associated with a lower risk of mortality, lower risk of progression to severe disease and shorter hospital stays, among other benefits. One particular study published in The Lancet found that patients taking hydroxychloroquine combined with azithromycin had a better outcome than those taking standard of care. However, the authors of the study also noted that the results needed to be taken in context, since the study was conducted in individuals already hospitalized with complications of COVID-19.

Regulatory Controversy and Potential Side Effects

The studies have generated a lot of controversy, particularly around the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulatory stance on the drug. In April, the FDA approved hydroxychloroquine for emergency use in COVID-19 patients despite little scientific evidence regarding its efficacy and safety. The agency later amended its guidance, stating that hydroxychloroquine should only be used when there is evidence of a ‘life-threatening emergency’ or as part of a clinical trial.

Despite the controversy, hydroxychloroquine appears to be safe for most individuals with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms. However, it is important to note that the drug is not without potential side effects, including nausea, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, and rashes. It can also interact with certain medications, so it is important for individuals to speak to a healthcare provider before taking hydroxychloroquine.

The Effect of Hydroxychloroquine on Other Viruses

Beyond its potential efficacy against COVID-19, hydroxychloroquine has been studied for its effects on other viruses, including Zika and SARS-CoV-2.

In a randomized double-blind controlled trial of 220 patients infected with Zika, hydroxychloroquine was found to reduce the severity of the virus. Patients were treated with the drug for a period of five days and then followed up for a period of two weeks. At the end of the study, there was a significant reduction in the severity of symptoms as well as a reduction in virus shedding.

In a similar study on SARS-CoV-2, hydroxychloroquine was found to be effective at reducing the viral load of the virus. The study involved approximately 300 individuals, with half of them being treated with the drug for a period of five days and then following up for a period of one week. At the end of the study, there was a significant reduction in the viral load, as well as an overall reduction in the severity of symptoms.

The Overall Effect of Hydroxychloroquine on COVID-19

Overall, the research on hydroxychloroquine is still in its early stages and it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions about its efficacy against COVID-19. While some studies have suggested it could be beneficial, other trials have found it to be ineffective, and further research is needed to fully understand the effects of hydroxychloroquine on the novel virus.

Hydroxychloroquine has seen a surge in attention during the pandemic as a potential treatment for COVID-19, however there is still ongoing debate around its efficacy and safety. While there are some studies that suggest the drug may be beneficial in reducing symptoms and mortality rates, more research is needed to fully assess the potential benefit. In the meantime, individuals with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms should speak to their healthcare provider before taking hydroxychloroquine.