A research trial in Brazil that used chloroquine to treat coronavirus patients was stopped after patients developed irregular heart rates.
The study was halted after some patients taking a higher dose of the drug developed the irregularity, which could lead to potentially fatal arrhythmia, The New York Times reports.
The drug is closely related to hydroxychloroquine, a drug used to treat malaria, which has been touted by President Donald Trump.
The Food and Drug Administration recently granted approval to hospitals to use both chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for treatment from the national stockpile even though little is known about their effectiveness in treating coronavirus.
There were 81 patients in the Brazilian study. About half of the participants were given a dose 450 milligrams of chloroquine twice daily for five days. The rest received a higher dose of 600 milligrams for 10 days.
Within three days, researchers said they started noticing heart arrhythmias in patients taking the higher dose. By the sixth day of treatment, 11 patients had died, and the high-dose segment of the trial was stopped. Patients in the trial were also given the antibiotic azithromycin, which also carries heart risks.
The researchers said the study did not have enough patients in the lower-dose portion of the trial to conclude if chloroquine was effective in patients with severe cases of the disease. More studies evaluating the drug earlier in the course of the disease are “urgently needed,” the researchers said.
Dr. Bushra Mina, the section chief of pulmonary medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, told the New York Times that the study would most likely not change his hospital’s practice of giving a five-day course of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin to hospitalized patients who were not severely ill. He told the newspapers that patients are monitored daily for heart abnormalities, and the drugs are stopped if any are found.
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