May 19, 2020

Trump says he's taking hydroxychloroquine in hopes of preventing Covid-19. Here are the risks.

Daily Briefing

    President Trump on Monday announced he's taking the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine in hopes of preventing the new coronavirus, but health experts note the drug hasn't been approved to treat or prevent Covid-19  and can cause patients to experience serious heart rhythm problems.

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    US Covid-19 cases surpass 1.5M, death toll tops 90K

    Trump's comments come as U.S. officials as of Tuesday morning had reported 1,515,300 cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus—up from 1,493,600 cases as of Monday morning.

    As of Tuesday morning, officials also had reported a total of 90,295 U.S. deaths linked to the new coronavirus—up from 89,504 deaths reported as of Monday morning.

    Trump says he takes hydroxychloroquine daily as a prophylaxis for Covid-19

    Trump during a roundtable on Tuesday said he's taking hydroxychloroquine and a zinc supplement daily in an effort to protect himself against the new coronavirus. Hydroxychloroquine is FDA-approved to treat or prevent malaria. The drug also has been used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis—but it hasn't been approved to treat or prevent Covid-19.

    While clinical trials on the drug are ongoing, Trump has been a vocal supporter of using hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for Covid-19.

    Trump said he's been taking the anti-malaria drug and a zinc supplement "for about a week and a half now," and that he'd requested the drug from Sean Conley, the White House physician.

    In a statement released by the White House press office, Conley said he and Trump had "numerous discussions" about hydroxychloroquine's benefits and risks, and ultimately "concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks."

    Trump said, "I think [hydroxychloroquine is] good. I've heard a lot of good stories. And if it's not good, I'll tell you right. I'm not going to get hurt by it." Trump noted that the drug's long been approved to treat arthritis, lupus, malaria, and rheumatoid arthritis. "It's been around for 40 years," he said.

    Health experts note the drug hasn't been approved to treat or prevent Covid-19

    However, several health experts quickly noted that there's no clear evidence showing hydroxychloroquine effectively treats or prevents Covid-19. Further, those doctors noted that there is initial evidence of the drug causing patients to experience serious heart rhythm problems.

    FDA last month warned providers not to use hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19 patients outside of a clinical trial or hospital setting because the drugs could cause patients to experience "serious heart rhythm problems." FDA warned providers that Covid-19 patients could experience life-threatening side effects when taking chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. The agency said the side effects have included "abnormal heart rhythms such as QT interval prolongation, dangerously rapid heart rate called ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation, and in some cases, death."

    Eric Topol, a cardiologist and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said, "I think it's a very bad idea to be taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive medication. There [is] no data to support that, there's no evidence and in fact there is no compelling evidence to support its use at all at this point."

    David Juurlink, head of clinical pharmacology at the University of Toronto, said, Trump taking the drug "seems to me to be a crazy thing to do." He added that, "If the drug had no side effects, it would be a reasonable thing to do."

    Health care experts also raised concerns about the example Trump is setting to the public by using the drug as a prophylaxis for Covid-19.

    Steven Nissen—the chief academic officer of the Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic—said, "My concern would be that the public not hear comments about the use of hydroxychloroquine and believe that taking this drug to prevent Covid-19 infection is without hazards. In fact, there are serious hazards" (Miller et al., Associated Press, 5/18; Axios, 5/18; Gearan et al., Washington Post, 5/18; Frias, Business Insider, 5/18; Samuels, The Hill, 5/18; Karni/Thomas, New York Times, 5/18; Lim/Brennan, Politico, 5/18; Associated Press, 5/19; New York Times, 5/19).

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