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Health

Could hydroxychloroquine prevent COVID-19? Researchers hope to find out more in SE MI study

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steve carmody
/
Michigan Radio

Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System is asking 3,000 southeastern Michigan first responders to take part in a clinical trial of a treatment that doctors hope may prevent people from contracting COVID-19. 

Hydroxychloroquine is a commonly used drug for lupus, which has shown some effect on the new coronavirus in early studies. However, published research remains thin.

“There has been a lot of talk about this drug, but only a small, non-blinded study in Europe,” says the study’s organizer, Henry Ford Health System’s Dr. William W. O’Neill. “We are going to change that in Metro Detroit and produce a scientific answer to the question: does it work?”

Officials says this is going to be the first major, definitive study in health care workers and first responders of hydroxychloroquine as a preventative medication.

“The drug is being used now for people who have the virus and have some symptoms,” says Dr. Adnan Munkarah, Henry Ford Health System’s Chief Clinical Officer. “This study is meant to look at this drug for these people who get exposed and we want to make sure they don’t develop symptoms and don’t develop the disease.”

The study could begin as early as next week. 

The study, titled WHIP COVID-19 Study, will look at whether the drug prevents front-line workers from contracting the virus. Once they provide a blood sample, the study subjects will receive vials with unidentified, specific pills to take over the next eight weeks: a once-a-week dose of hydroxychloroquine, a once-a-day dose, or a placebo (a pill that looks like the medication, but does not contain any medication or other active ingredients).  

Participants will not know which group they are in.

They will then be contacted weekly and in person at week four and week eight of the study to see if they are exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19, including dry cough, fever, or breathing issues, as well as any medication side effects.

At eight weeks, they will be checked again for symptoms, medication side effects, and have blood drawn. Results will be compared among the three groups to see if the medication had any effect.

Southeast Michigan is among the parts of the nation hardest hit by the COVID-19 outbreak. Roughly three quarters of the state-confirmed cases and deaths have taken place in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. Among those affected have been police officers and health care workers.

“We need this in our front lines for our Detroit police officers and EMTs,” says Dr. Steven Kalkanis, CEO of the Henry Ford Medical Group. “Also our health care workers. People in the emergency room and in our intensive care units, who are day in and day out putting their lives on the line to protect our community.”

Researchers say it will likely be many months before they will be able to fully assess the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19. 

Editor's note: Henry Ford Health System is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

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