Antimalarial drug linked to increased risk of death, new COVID-19 study says

8 On Your Side

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – 8 On Your Side Investigates is looking into the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as scientists in Tampa and across the globe race to find a new weapon in the fight against coronavirus.

There’s currently a study underway at Tampa General Hospital. Health care workers are taking the drug to see if it prevents COVID -19.

“I believe there are a few hundred or 190 workers in Tampa General Hospital, so this is being used by some,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, also a Tampa native, said this week.

For years, hydroxychloroquine was used to treat malaria and lupus.

While President Donald Trump says he is taking it to ward off coronavirus – experts say much remains unknown.

“Really, you have no major options to treat someone who is ill enough in the hospital to need treatment,” said Dr. John Greene.

Dr. Green is the chief of infectious diseases at Moffitt Cancer Center.

He says hydroxychloroquine may be effective at treating COVID-19; however, it’s dangerous for some patients, including those with an irregular heart rhythm.

A new study published in the medical journal The Lancet found patients treated with the drug were more likely to die or develop dangerous heart arrhythmias.

“Doctors may hesitate using it for treatment because of this study,” said Dr. Greene.

While official clinical trials are underway, physicians are still choosing to use this drug when the risk factors are low and there’s no other option.

Dr. Greene has used it twice.

“Both of them were younger, they didn’t have heart arrhythmias, their EKGs were fine,” said Dr. Greene. “They did fine and they recovered and they’re doing well.”

The bottom line is we don’t know if this drug can prevent coronavirus. Those studies are still underway.

As far as treatment goes, your doctor will weigh the pros and cons.

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