Are San Antonio hospitals still using malaria drug for COVID-19?

Hydroxychloroquine is back in the headlines, but local experts say nothing has changed about the drug

The malaria drug hydroxychloroquine has been a controversial subject throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

SAN ANTONIO – The malaria drug hydroxychloroquine has been a controversial subject throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

When studies released in June showed the drug did not help COVID-19 patients and even posed further risk, some of the conversation died out.

However on Tuesday, posts on Twitter refueled the fire, so KSAT checked in with San Antonio hospitals and medical professionals to see if they’re using the drug.

Hydroxychloroquine was one of the first medications tested around the world in hopes it would help treat COVID-19 patients.

Locally, almost all the large hospital systems have used the drug at one point.

A Methodist Healthcare spokesperson the following statement regarding hydroxychloroquine:

“Treatment decisions about individual patients are made by the treating physician and not by the facility or system. Methodist Healthcare utilizes a physician-led, multidisciplinary work group to provide guidance on COVID-19 patient management. This work group does not endorse hydroxychloroquine based on the lack of evidence to support its use as an effective therapy; however, a small number of physicians practicing at Methodist Healthcare facilities have used the drug with a limited number of patients.”

Baptist and University Hospitals used the malaria drug early on, but stopped around June, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revoked its emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine and the World Health Organization stalled its trials.

“Here at University, we stopped using hydroxychloriquine after not only our own data, but data from other institutions around the world, showed that it does not benefit our patients clinically whatsoever. As a matter of fact, it increases adverse effects and can even increase mortality rate,” said Dr. Mohamed Hagahmed, a University Hospital emergency medicine physician and an associate professor at UT Health San Antonio.

Hagahmed has also co-authored a journal article about hydroxychloroquine.

“It does not work,” he said. “It is sad to see how this drug is politicized and it is sad to see that people still listen to groups of folks that do not have the medical background or even public health background.”

Hagahmed said prescriptions of hydroxychloroquine have more than doubled. He is begging people to stop stockpiling the medicine in their homes.

“Patients that have lupus and all these immune disorders, they are not able to fill their hydroxychloroquine that they need to survive and get by,” he said.

Hagahmed said it’s dangerous to take any medicine without supervision and proof of efficacy.

“Nothing is without side effects, and as clinicians we try to minimize the adverse effects as much as possible. Hydroxychloriqune comes with very serious side effects, including cardiac abnormalities. Sometimes you can have hallucinations and psychosis, you can have severe vomiting, nausea. If you take this medicine without clinically proven data that it’s going to help against COVID, you could have a chance of actually dying and having severe side effects from this,” he said.

Hagahmed hopes people will turn their attention to other medications showing promise right now.

University Hospital is the largest clinical research site in the world right now studying the drug remdesivir, which has so far proven to be effective in promoting quicker recovery.

Hagahmed is also studying the drug dexamethasone, which is also showing promising results.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.

Misael started at KSAT-TV as a photojournalist in 1987.