In a study published online this week, Chinese researchers found that patients who were given the medication saw their cough, fever and pneumonia clear up faster than in a group that did not receive it , according to the New York Times.
The disease also seemed less likely to become severe in those who were treated with hydroxychloroquine, according to the small study published on the medRxiv preprint server before being peer reviewed.
However, the study did not include data on critically ill patients.
The authors said the results were promising, but more research was needed on how hydroxychloroquine might work in the treatment of COVID-19 and how to best use it.
“This will send a wave of enthusiasm into the treatment community,” Dr William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, told The Times.
But the results strongly confirm previous studies suggesting a role for the drug, added Schaffner.
“I think it will reinforce the trend of many people across the country who are unable to enroll their patients in clinical trials but who have already started using hydroxychloroquine,” he said.
President Trump has touted hydroxychloroquine as a drug that can be used to prevent coronavirus – and also said that chloroquine, another drug for antimalarial and autoimmune diseases, “could be a game-changer.”
The latest study – which was conducted at Renmin Hospital in Wuhan University in the city where the virus originates – included 62 patients with an average age of around 45 years and had a control group, according to the newspaper. .
The researchers made sure not to include anyone with medical conditions that may be aggravated by hydroxychloroquine, such as abnormal heart rhythms, certain eye diseases, and liver or kidney problems.
Half of the patients studied – the control group – received only the usual treatment offered to patients with coronavirus, while the rest received hydroxychloroquine plus usual care, including oxygen, antivirals and antibiotics.
Cough and fever subsided a day or two earlier in those who received the drug – and pneumonia improved in 25 out of 31 cases, compared to 17 out of 31 in the control group. The disease became severe in four patients in the control group.
Schaffner warned that the results only concerned people with relatively mild cases.
“If you want to treat people who are already seriously ill, we don’t know how well it will work,” he told The Times.