POZZILLI, Italy — Just when it seemed the hydroxychloroquine debate was over, a new Italian study might resurrect the discussion. Researchers find that use of the drug substantially reduces the risk of COVID-19 hospital deaths.
“We observed that patients treated with hydroxychloroquine had a 30% lower in-hospital mortality rate compared to those not receiving this treatment,” explains lead study author Augusto Di Castelnuovo in a media release. Di Castelnuovoa is an epidemiologist with IRCCS Neuromed at the Mediterranean Neurological Institute.
The report in the European Journal of Internal Medicine, which also includes researchers from the University of Pisa, looks at outcomes of 3,451 patients in 33 coronavirus-focused hospitals throughout Italy.
In reaching their conclusions, the Italian team considered data from current and previous diseases, as well as therapies used before the pandemic and drugs being given in hospitals specifically to fight COVID-19. After comparing drug improvements and final outcomes, the results remain consistent in showing a benefit to using hydroxychloroquine.
“Our data were subjected to extremely rigorous statistical analysis, taking into account all the variables and possible confounding factors that could come into play. The drug efficacy was evaluated in various subgroups of patients,” Di Castelnuovo assures those doubting the drug’s effectiveness.
Did people give up on hydroxychloroquine too soon?
Some reports allege hydroxychloroquine only works in certain situations and at certain times. The current findings dispute this.
“The positive results of hydroxychloroquine treatment remained unchanged,” the study author adds. “Especially in those patients showing a more evident inflammatory state at the moment of admission to hospital.”
Study authors stress the importance of identifying all possible COVID-19 therapies during this time when a vaccine is still unavailable. They point out that a few months ago the World Health Organization used an international observational study to conclude hydroxychloroquine should not be used to treat COVID-19 patients. That WHO study has since been retracted.
The right dosage may make a big difference
Neuromed Department of Epidemiology and Prevention Director Licia Iacoviello points out studies in other countries use larger doses of hydroxychloroquine. Those studies show unsuccessful results in patients.
“It is interesting to note that the doses of hydroxychloroquine adopted in Italy (200 mg, twice a day) are lower than the ones used in those researches,” Iacoviello reports.
Researchers believe more studies and clinical trials can determine what role the drug will continue to play during the pandemic. They hope this new CORIST study data will promote new international debate regarding hydroxychloroquine.