The FAMHP restates the risks linked to the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 following the publication of a retrospective analysis of a patient monitoring register in the medical journal The Lancet on 22 May 2020. The analysis did not highlight any benefits from these drugs in patients with COVID-19 and revealed adverse cardiovascular effects.
Experts analysed data from more than 96,000 COVID-19 patients in 671 different hospitals around the world. About 15,000 patients were treated with chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine with or without a macrolide. In this group, more patients died (one in six) than in the group not treated with these drugs (one in eleven).
Pending a thorough analysis of these data by Belgian experts, the FAMHP reiterates that there is a risk of cardiac rhythm disorders with chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. This is a known side effect about which the FAMHP issued warnings on 1 April and 24 April 2020.
This risk can be increased when combined with other drugs which have a similar effect on the heart. This is the case with the antibiotic azithromycin. The risk is even greater in patients with hypokalemia and/or hypomagnesemia. In addition to adverse cardiac effects, these treatments can cause liver or kidney problems, hypoglycemia and a lowering of the seizure threshold.
The FAMHP also points out that the clinical data concerning the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in the treatment of COVID-19 remain inconclusive. Treatments with these drugs should only be initiated in hospital and following the recommendations of Sciensano.
Message for patients
If you are using hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) for joint and/or skin disease or if you are taking hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for any indication other than COVID-19, there is no reason to stop your treatment.
Self-medication should be avoided. Do not take this medication without talking to your doctor first.
Many counterfeit anti-COVID-19 medicines are circulating on the internet. Do not buy any of these.
Notify all adverse reactions to the FAMHP
Patients and healthcare professionals are encouraged to report suspected adverse reactions.