Hydroxychloroquine – one more time

A video is making the rounds touting the merits of hydroxychloroquine. The doctors in the video claim there’s evidence in helps in humans (citing a 2005) paper. That paper was in tissue culture (i.e., a petri dish), not real live humans.

You and I are not petri dishes. Bleach will kill bacteria in a test tube. You should not drink bleach to kill bacteria in you.

No current guidelines recommend the use of hydroxychloroquine in the treatment of COVID-19. Here’s Canada. And the CDC.

Hydroxychloroquine can cause heart issues, especially in combination with some other drugs. All drugs have potential side effects, and so using a drug “just because” is not always a risk-free undertaking. See here. And here. And here. That’s especially true with COVID, given that there is good evidence that at least some patients have COVID-related heart problems.

It’s bad to pour gas on a fire.

CDC recommends against its use except in a clinical trial (which I suspect will become less and less common as the evidence against it mounts).

  1. Here’s a study from May 2020.
  • 1438 patients
  • No difference versus placebo of hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, or both.
  • Higher risk of cardiac problems in hydroxychloroquine users.

2. Here’s one from June 2020 called “No evidence of rapid antiviral clearance or clinical benefit with the combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin in patients with severe COVID-19 infection” Small size (11 patients).

3. Bunch more summarized here.

It isn’t clear to me who people believe benefit from hiding a treatment for COVID-19.

Government doesn’t benefit (they’re spending money hand over fist, and aren’t going to be blamed by voters for this lousy year no matter how well they do).

Doctors don’t benefit (we tend to like to cure people, not watch them die).

Scientists don’t benefit (anyone who really cracks the COVID problem is on track for cushy jobs for life, prestige, a Nobel Prize, and probably lots of money too).

And, all these above groups are at risk of getting sick (health care workers more than most). They also have friends and family at risk. They have skin in the game and no reason to suppress a cure that helps, even a little bit.

Everyone’s tired and frustrated. But we won’t make things better spreading conspiracy theories about how there’s a cure but “they” won’t let us have it.

We should also avoid the politicization of the illness as much as possible. Politics will always affect plans like lock downs, school closures, and financial bail-outs to some degree. That’s what happens when interests and needs collide in complex societies with limited resources and no ideal options.

(But just because a politician we like or don’t like says something about hydrochloroquine–pro or con–shouldn’t affect what we think of it.)

When it comes to treatments, though, there’s too many independent groups working to suppress anything. Those closest to the work (physicians and scientists) have the most to gain from the widest possible publicity and success.

And suppressing a cure serves no one’s interests anyway.

If someone claims hydroxychloroquine works, let them publish their data and pick up the Nobel during their trip to Stockholm. A famous movie used to say “show me the money!”

In science and medicine, it’s “show me the data.” And the data so far doesn’t support the use of chloroquine. Every professional group on the planet that I know of agrees on that.