Concomitant use of drugs with known risk for torsade de pointes was a significant risk factor in univariate analysis (OR, 1.73; P = .036), but fell out in the multivariate model.
No patients experienced high-grade arrhythmias during the study. In all, 112 of the 586 patients died during hospitalization, including 85 (21%) of the 415 study patients.
The change in QTc interval from baseline was greater in patients who died. Despite this, the only independent predictor of mortality was older age. One possible explanation is that the decision to monitor patients with baseline QTc intervals of at least 440 msec may have skewed the study population toward people with moderate or slightly long QTc intervals prior to the initiation of HCQ/AZM, Dr. Haines suggested. Monitoring and treatment duration were short, and clinicians also likely adjusted medications when excess QTc prolongation was observed.
Although it’s been months since data collection was completed in April, and the paper was written in record-breaking time, the study “is still very relevant because the drug is still out there,” observed Dr. Haines. “Even though it may not be used in as widespread a fashion as it had been when we first submitted the paper, it is still being used routinely by many hospitals and many practitioners.”
The use of hydroxychloroquine is “going through the roof” because of COVID-19, commented Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, MD, medical director for the Kansas City Heart Rhythm Institute, HCA Midwest Health, Overland Park, Kan., who was not involved in the study.
“This study is very relevant, and I’m glad they shared their experience, and it’s pretty consistent with the data presented by other people. The question of whether hydroxychloroquine helps people with COVID is up for debate, but there is more evidence today that it is not as helpful as it was 3 months ago,” said Dr. Lakkireddy, who is also chair of the American College of Cardiology Electrophysiology Council.
He expressed concern for patients who may be taking HCQ with other medications that have QT-prolonging effects, and for the lack of long-term protocols in place for the drug.
In the coming weeks, however, the ACC and rheumatology leaders will be publishing an expert consensus statement that addresses key issues, such as how to best to use HCQ, maintenance HCQ, electrolyte monitoring, the optimal timing of electrocardiography and cardiac magnetic imaging, and symptoms to look for if cardiac involvement is suspected, Dr. Lakkireddy said.
Asked whether HCQ and AZM should be used in COVID-19 patients, Dr. Haines said in an interview that the “QT-prolonging effects are real, the arrhythmogenic potential is real, and the benefit to patients is nil or marginal. So I think that use of these drugs is appropriate and reasonable if it is done in a setting of a controlled trial, and I support that. But the routine use of these drugs probably is not warranted based on the data that we have available.”
Still, hydroxychloroquine continues to be dragged into the spotlight in recent days as an effective treatment for COVID-19, despite discredited research and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s June 15 revocation of its emergency-use authorization to allow use of HCQ and chloroquine to treat certain hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
“The unfortunate politicization of this issue has really muddied the waters because the general public doesn’t know what to believe or who to believe. The fact that treatment for a disease as serious as COVID should be modulated by political affiliation is just crazy to me,” said Dr. Haines. “We should be using the best science and taking careful observations, and whatever the recommendations derived from that should be uniformly adopted by everybody, irrespective of your political affiliation.”
Dr. Haines has received honoraria from Biosense Webster, Farapulse, and Sagentia, and is a consultant for Affera, Boston Scientific, Integer, Medtronic, Philips Healthcare, and Zoll. Dr. Lakkireddy has served as a consultant to Abbott, Biosense Webster, Biotronik, Boston Scientific, and Medtronic.
A version of this article originally appeared on.