CDC Hydroxychloroquine Prescription Advice Removed After 'Unusual' Move to Issue Guidelines Without Strong Evidence

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reportedly taken down advice for doctors on prescribing a controversial anti-malarial drug to treat COVID-19 patients.

Hydroxychloroquine and its analog chloroquine has been used experimentally on coronavirus patients as there is currently no specific drug or vaccine against the disease.

The Reuters news agency reported that the CDC website previously stated on its "Information for Clinicians on Therapeutic Options for Patients with COVID-19" page: "Although optimal dosing and duration of hydroxychloroquine for treatment of COVID-19 are unknown, some U.S. clinicians have reported anecdotally" on how to use it.

Currently, the "Therapeutic Options" page of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) section of the CDC's website states: "There are no drugs or other therapeutics approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to prevent or treat COVID-19.

"Current clinical management includes infection prevention and control measures and supportive care, including supplemental oxygen and mechanical ventilatory support when indicated."

It goes on to state that the Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel plan to soon provide "interim guidelines for the medical management of COVID-19."

The page outlines treatments being investigated, including hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine and the unapproved anti-viral drug remdesivir. The CDC states the anti-malarial drugs "are under investigation in clinical trials."

Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, told Reuters it was "very unusual" for the CDC to publish advice based on anecdotes.

Over the weekend, Reuters cited two unidentified sources to report that the CDC issued guidance for doctors on prescribing chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine after the president pressured federal health officials to make the drugs available for COVID-19 patients. The document reportedly called "Information for Clinicians on Treatment Options for COVID-19 Patients" presented hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as potential treatments.

The CDC told Reuters at the time that it provided the guidance after a request by the White House coronavirus task force, who asked the agency to look at existing literature and "post the information as quickly as possible."

The White House told Reuters the president had taken appropriate action and had not conducted a "pressure campaign."

Newsweek has contacted the White House and CDC for comment.

The anti-malarial drugs hit headlines after they were trialed in COVID-19 patients, as researchers try to ensure that the experimental treatments are safe to use.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as a potential COVID-19 treatments, and said he would take the former.

But health experts, including those at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stress that clinical trials are needed to ensure the drugs are effective and safe for COVID-19 patients.

Hospitals in Sweden have reportedly stopped giving chloroquine to COVID-19 patients after they experienced adverse side effects. A study published last month said COVID-19 patients given hydroxychloroquine saw no benefits.

The matter is complicated by the International Journal of Anti-Microbial Agents, publisher of a study claiming hydroxychloroquine was helpful for such patients, having since said the article did not meet its expected standards.

In the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic, over 1.4 million people have been diagnosed with the disease, more than 82,000 people have died, and over 301,500 people have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University.

As the Statista map below shows, the new coronavirus which causes COVID-19 has reached almost every country in the world.

statista, covid19, coronavirus
A map showing confirmed COVID-19 cases around the world. Statista

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.