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The work by researchers at IHU-Méditerranée Infection in Marseille has garnered global attention, notably from President Trump. Researchers prescribed the antimalarial hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin to patients earlier this month, according to the research, which is published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents. Some experts, however, have also urged caution around the drug combination.
The Federal Drug Administration is studying the effects of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19, but it has made no recommendation on it yet.
In the statement, which was released Sunday, IHU-Méditerranée Infection described the treatment protocol for COVID-19 patients. “A treatment with the hydroxychloroquine combination (200 mg x 3 per day for 10 days) + Azithromycin (500 mg on the 1st day then 250 mg per day for 5 more days), as part of the precautions for use of this association (including an electrocardiogram on D0 and D2)," they write, in the translated statement. “In cases of severe pneumonia, a broad-spectrum antibiotic is also used.”
“We believe that it is not ethical that this association should not be systematically included in therapeutic trials concerning the treatment of COVID-19 infection in France,” the researchers add.
In the abstract of their research study, researchers noted that patients “showed a significant reduction of the viral carriage,” six days after treatment with the two drugs began, and “much lower average carrying duration,” compared to untreated patients.
The untreated patients were included in the study as negative controls. Six patients in the study were asymptomatic, while 22 had upper respiratory tract infection symptoms and eight had lower respiratory tract infection symptoms. Researchers treated 20 cases in the study.
“HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine,” tweeted President Trump on Saturday.
Trump urged the immediate use of the combination of medicines.
“The FDA has moved mountains - Thank You! Hopefully they will BOTH (H works better with A, International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents).....be put in use IMMEDIATELY. PEOPLE ARE DYING, MOVE FAST, and GOD BLESS EVERYONE!”
In an interview on "Fox and Friends" Friday morning, Dr. Mehmet Oz said that he is feeling optimistic about the French research data. “These medications were remarkably effective in reducing the viral load in people who had coronavirus, the COVID-19,” Oz explained. “We could actually make this virus behave a lot more like the flu virus, if that’s true.”
Experts have also urged caution around the combination of medications. On Saturday, infectious diseases physician Dr. Edsel Salvana warned patients not to take hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin unless prescribed by a doctor. "Both drugs affect the QT interval of your heart and can lead to arrhythmias and sudden death, especially if you are taking other meds or have a heart condition," he wrote.
"There are instances in which doctors may use either or both in CONFIRMED COVID infection, but for compassionate use through a carefully monitored process," he explained in another tweet. "There is data it MIGHT work but it is very early. DO NOT take ANY drug unless an MD prescribes it and monitors you closely."
Across the globe, a number of drug trials are underway as doctors and scientists scramble to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
As of Monday morning, at least 349,211 coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, 35,224 of which are in the U.S. The disease has accounted for at least 14,790 deaths around the world, including 471 people in the U.S.
The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers