New Delhi: The efficacy of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), an anti-malaria drug, in treating or preventing Covid-19 is unclear. However, thousands of healthcare workers and common people continue to have them in the hope that it may guard them against novel coronavirus infection.
Doctors, however, warn against the practice. According to Dr Kabir Sardana, professor of dermatology at Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) hospital in New Delhi, they have come across healthcare workers using the drug as a preventive developing skin problems such as raised itchy eruptions, swelling of face, itching of body, itching of palms and soles, and rash involving the trunk.
“It was a chance finding. We received six patients, all of them healthcare workers managing Covid-19 patients, who complained about skin problems. Tests showed four of them had developed the problem due to HCQ use while two others due to other factors,” Dr Sardana told TOI.
He added that when they investigated further, it was found that a number of patients who had been reporting with similar skin problems also had a history of taking HCQ without prescription. It took nearly two to three weeks for the skin reaction to subside. Patients with severe itching required oral steroids, the doctor said.
Dr Sardana said healthcare workers taking HCQ should be aware that even a weekly dose — approved by Indian Council of Medical Research — can cause skin rash. “If this is not treated properly, the skin problems can aggravate and cause serious health issues,” he added.
The results of the study conducted by RML on the side-effects of HCQ use in healthcare workers has been published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment. “While we will not debate on the merits and demerits of HCQ prophylaxis, it is pertinent to decide on whether the drug should be stopped or continued when side-effects are seen,” the study states.
On June 17, World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the HCQ arm of the Solidarity Trial to find an effective Covid-19 treatment was being stopped. The United Nations body took the decision based on the findings of a UK study that showed that the use of this drug did not result in reduction of mortality of hospitalised patients, when compared with standard of care.
“The decision to stop hydroxychloroquine’s use in the Solidarity Trial does not apply to the use or evaluation of hydroxychloroquine in pre- or post-exposure prophylaxis in patients exposed to Covid-19,” WHO said.