OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Medical experts in Oklahoma City say a viral video talking about the success of hydroxychloroquine is not telling the true story of the fight against COVID-19.
Last week, a video published by right-wing media outlet Breitbart News took aim at the pandemic.
In the video, a speaker who identifies herself as a doctor makes a number of dubious claims, including that “you don’t need masks” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. She also said that recent studies showing hydroxychloroquine is ineffective for the treatment of Covid-19 are “fake science” sponsored by “fake pharma companies.”
“This virus has a cure, it’s called hydroxychloroquine, zinc, and Zithromax,” the woman claims. “You don’t need masks, there is a cure.”
The claims run contrary to multiple studies on the anti-malarial drug and advice from public health officials to prevent spread of the virus.
A study found that neither hydroxychloroquine alone nor hydroxychloroquine plus azithromycin appeared to affect the condition of patients at the 15-day mark. Additionally, unusual heart rhythms and elevated liver-enzyme levels were more frequent in patients receiving hydroxychloroquine alone or with azithromycin, according to the study.
Dr. David Chansolme, Medical Director of Infection Prevention at INTEGRIS Health, is trying to dispel some of those rumors.
“Regarding some of the misinformation on hydroxychloroquine, I can tell you that the things that are being posted on social media do not stand up to scientific rigor,” Dr. Chansolme said.
He says that the initial push to use hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients came from previous studies, but it didn’t pan out.
“We did look very strongly at hydroxychloroquine at the beginning of this epidemic. That came from data which was from the first SARS 20 years ago that showed that it might help invitro, which means in the lab. It doesn’t really always correlate with what we call invivo data, which means how it behaves in a human. Hydroxychloroquine is an old drug. We’ve used it for years for malaria. It has a very strong niche in the rheumatologic diseases where it’s used as an anti-inflammatory primarily. And then there are a few quick and very dirty studies done at the beginning of this epidemic in China and some in Europe that showed there may be a benefit. The problem with these studies is they weren’t done under the rigorous circumstances that we usually like to have in studies. Now, a lot of that is because of the speed of the epidemic. We can’t get studies done in as timely a fashion as we would like,” he said.
Chansolme says they did use hydroxychloroquine at the beginning of the pandemic, but stopped as more data was released.
“Personally, I have never really understood how we can expect an anti-parasitic drug to have effect against a virus. I understand how it works,” Chansolme said. “I think probably it does have some anti-inflammatory effects that might help temper some of the symptoms. It does not have any direct anti-viral effects. It has been shown in subsequent studies, again quick and dirty studies, not as rigorous as we would like, but to not have any effect. The mountain of evidence at this time, I would say, points towards it not having a profound effect on COVID disease. “
Now, Chansolme says there are other drugs that are promising.
“The most exciting study probably was the recovery trial in Great Britain where they showed that dexamethasone, an old steroid used for lots of things, has a really great effect here. We had shied away from steroids in people who were septic before from other diseases because the data has never been very strong for steroids and sepsis. But this seems to be the exception to the rule and we have had great success, I think, with that,” he said.
“The other drug that has been shown to have some promise is remdesivir, which is an antiviral agent. It wasn’t originally fabricated for COVID, it was originally fabricated for ebola but because the viruses are similar, they were able to show that it did have some effect on mortality and we have been using it regularly in that sphere for people who are more critically ill. It is not an outpatient drug, it is administered intravenously. It is something that has to be given in hospitals, so really only hospitalized patients are eligible for it. It’s my understanding that they’re trying to look for some new formulations that might bring it to the outpatient arena, but that’s not ready for primetime,” Dr. Chansolme added.
For most people with only mild symptoms, Dr. Chansolme recommends rest, fluids, and acetaminophen for people who are at home.
“When we have more data, we will continue to employ it and do everything we can to save patients. I think that you see our mortality numbers have gone down and I believe that is because we are getting better at treating patients. Some people are still really, really sick and it’s still a serious disease. People need to take it seriously. The best treatments we have for it are still the same three that we have touted from the beginning: social distancing, hand hygiene, and community masking. Those are still the three most effective interventions in terms of controlling COVID, and that hasn’t changed since day one.”
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