Scientists are STILL fighting over hydroxychloroquine: US medics given the Trump-backed drug were 'NO less likely to catch the virus' than those who took placebo - but Australian researchers insist it might work

 The malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, that President Donald Trump took to protect himself from getting Covid-19 remains controversial as US scientists found that the drug does not prevent infection - but Australian researchers insist the opposite.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that hydroxychloroquine, which was once thought to be a potential treatment for coronavirus, offers no protection.

Around 6.3 per cent of hospital workers who took the drug regularly caught Covid-19, compared to 6.6 per cent of people who didn't, the team reported Tuesday.  

The effect, they said, was 'negligible' and although a slightly higher proportion of people without the drug became sick, it was not a big enough difference to suggest hydroxychloroquine worked.

Scientists behind the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute's COVID SHIELD trial in Melbourne, Australia, however, see a lot hope in that small percentage. 

'The evidence that shows that the drug doesn’t particularly help with treatment really never deterred us because we always thought that ... if the drug did have a role in preventing people from getting COVID-19, it has to be even before they were exposed to SARS-CoV-2,' co-lead of the COVID SHIELD trial, Dr Marc Pelligrini told The Australian. 

Whether or not the medicine could help treat people who already had Covid-19 was not studied, but US regulators revoked emergency approval for the drug to treat coronavirus, and trials of it as a therapeutic have been dropped by the NIH and WHO. 

Hydroxychloroquine is a prescription-only medicine in the UK and is primarily used for malaria prevention for people travelling to at-risk countries (stock image)

Hydroxychloroquine is a prescription-only medicine in the UK and is primarily used for malaria prevention for people travelling to at-risk countries (stock image)

The most convincing evidence so far has ruled it offers no benefit to the sickest patients, with other research even suggesting it could raise the risk of death. Less robust studies have claimed the drug might be beneficial. 

A University of Minnesota study published in June found that hydroxychloroquine was a similarly lackluster coronavirus preventive. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning against taking the drug because it could trigger heart problems.  

In Britain, trials of the drug on coronavirus patients had to be halted because of concerns about its safety, and scientists must now get special permission from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to use it.

But now and then research offers another glimmer of hope for the malaria drug, such as a Detroit study that found the drug significantly cut death risks (although it was criticized for not randomly assigning equal numbers of people to get the drug or not). 

Other research to see whether hydroxychloroquine can prevent Covid-19 is still ongoing, including a trial run by the University of Oxford. 

President Donald Trump said in May that he was taking hydroxychloroquine to protect himself from Covid-19, causing a global uproar around the drug. Scientists in the US now say it would not have protected the president

President Donald Trump said in May that he was taking hydroxychloroquine to protect himself from Covid-19, causing a global uproar around the drug. Scientists in the US now say it would not have protected the president

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania say there is no benefit to taking the medicine to try and prevent coronavirus.

After studying rates of Covid-19 among people who took the drug and people who didn't, Dr Ravi Amaravadi said: 'The differences we saw were negligible.

'And those who did get the virus, whether they were taking hydroxychloroquine or not, were all asymptomatic or had very mild forms of Covid-19.'

The Pennsylvania team looked at a group of 125 health workers in two hospitals in the state, focusing on doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, emergency technicians and respiratory therapists.


They were split roughly 50/50 into a hydroxychloroquine group, which received 600mg of the medicine every day for two months, and a placebo group, which was given pills that looked the same but didn't contain anything.

Neither group knew whether they were given the real pill or the placebo, and all participants were closely monitored throughout the eight-week study. 

To work out who had caught the disease, everyone was tested both for current infection and for past infection - using an antibody test on their blood - three times, at the start, the middle and the end of the study. 

None of the eight people who caught coronavirus during the study ended up in hospital, and two of them had no symptoms at all.

Hydroxychloroquine is a prescription-only medicine that is primarily used for malaria-prevention and handed out at travel clinics.

The medicine is also prescribed for some people who live with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. In these drugs it helps to control immune system over-reactions. 

Authorities in Britain have stockpiled supplies of hydroxychloroquine since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, preventing companies from selling them to hospitals or to firms abroad - this is called a parallel export ban.

Hopes were raised that it could tackle Covid-19 after lab experiments found that the medicine could block the coronavirus from entering living cells. 

And the way it helps to control the immune system in patients with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis suggested it could prevent the body over-reacting when it is infected with Covid-19, which is thought to be a cause of death in some people.

But the initially promising results do not seem to have been produced in living patients. 

Dr Benjamin Abella, leader of the University of Pennsylvania's study, said: 'This work represents the first randomized trial of hydroxychloroquine's [preventative] effect for those not yet exposed to Covid-19. 

'And while hydroxychloroquine is an effective drug for the treatment of diseases like lupus and malaria, we saw no differences that would lead us to recommend prescribing it as a preventive medication for Covid-19 in front line workers.'

The study went on from April 9 until July 14.

The scientists also had regular ECG heart scans because other research has suggested the medicine can cause irregular heart rhythms when taken in large doses.

But no negative effects were seen and the 600mg-per-day dose did not seem to have any effects on the participants' hearts. 

The study was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine by the American Medical Association

For now, Australian scientists are pressing on with trials for the drug. They and their study recruits believe that the easy availability and low cost of hydroxychloroquine makes it worth continued investigation. 

Nurse Claire Lobb (pictured right) is among 230 front line health care workers who have signed up to the COVID SHIELD trial of hydroxychloroquine

Nurse Claire Lobb (pictured right) is among 230 front line health care workers who have signed up to the COVID SHIELD trial of hydroxychloroquine

Claire Lobb is an emergency care nurse at The Alfred Hospital and among about 230 frontline healthcare workers signed up for the four-month trial.

'Hydroxychloroquine is a drug that is cheap and readily available, with very few side effects. If there is a chance this drug could help prevent frontline healthcare workers from getting COVID-19, I think it is important that we do a proper clinical trial to test it,' she said.

Ms Lobb said she was keen to be involved and excited at the prospect of finding out whether the drug was useful as a prophylactic. 

'To have a drug that is cheap and widely available to reduce transmission of the virus to frontline healthcare workers would be really helpful, especially while we are waiting for a vaccine,' she said.

Scientists are STILL fighting over hydroxychloroquine: US medics given the Trump-backed drug were 'NO less likely to catch the virus' than those who took placebo - but Australian researchers insist it might work Scientists are STILL fighting over hydroxychloroquine: US medics given the Trump-backed drug were 'NO less likely to catch the virus' than those who took placebo - but Australian researchers insist it might work Reviewed by STATION GOSSIP on 05:09 Rating: 5

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