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October 2020 (Vol. 5 Issue 7)

Antimalaria drugs are not curing COVID-19, researchers say
About the author: 
Bryan Hubbard

Antimalaria drugs are not curing COVID-19, researchers say image

Antimalarial drugs have been touted as an answer to COVID-19 infection, and even President Trump has described them as 'a game-changer'—but they can cause life-threatening heart problems.

A new study into chloroquine was stopped suddenly after two patients died from an irregular heart rate, known as ventricular tachycardia. Researchers from Brazil had planned on a major trial involving 440 people infected with COVID-19, but started to see very worrying reactions to high doses of the drug among the first 81 patients who were being tested.

Within a few days of starting, many given the high doses—600 mg twice a day for 10 days—started suffering heart rhythm problems, and two died.

Writing in a research database, the researchers warn that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, another antimalarial, are not safe or effective therapies against COVID-19.

A COVID-19 patient in hospital in France also died after developing irregular heart rhythms.

Aside from heart problems, the antimalarials also cause a host of other life-threatening reactions, warn researchers at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. These include hypoglycaemia, a sudden drop in blood sugar, confusion, hallucinations and paranoia.

There's very little evidence that suggests the drugs can treat COVID-19 infection. In fact, the antimalarials may even make symptoms more severe, despite "optimism, and even enthusiasm" that they are the solution, says Dr David Juurlink.

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References

(Sources: CMAJ, 2020; doi: 10.1503/cmaj.200528; medRxiv)

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