A malaria drug still being tested for COVID-19 treatment may be used on hospitalized patients in Lancaster County | Local News

COVID-19 patients at Lancaster-area hospitals may receive drugs being investigated as possible treatments for the virus.

Federal regulators haven’t approved any drugs as a treatment for COVID-19. The ones being considered are all in clinical trials to see if they’re safe and effective. That includes hydroxychloroquine, a prescription drug used to treat diseases including malaria, lupus and arthritis.

UPMC, the parent organization of UPMC Pinnacle and its Lititz hospital, last week launched a clinical trial across its system giving most participants “one, two or three of the experimental treatment options,” which include hydroxychloroquine.

Treatments will be give more often if they appear to be performing well, and discontinued if doing poorly, it said.

Dr. Joseph Kontra, chief of infectious disease at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital, said it’s not part of a placebo-controlled clinical trial, but is using hydroxychloroquine “after careful consideration and discussion with the patient” for some who are hospitalized.

“There are potential harms, of course, as is the case with any drug,” he wrote in an email. Because it can affect the electrical system of the heart, and in rare cases cause dangerous heart rhythm disturbances, he said, the patients are monitored by EKG.

It will take time and the accumulation of scientific data to determine if the drug is beneficial for COVID-19 patients, he said.

Cindy Stauffer, spokeswoman for WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital, said in an email that its team is considering possible therapeutic options, including hydroxychloroquine, and is monitoring “the emerging evidence and best practices for COVID treatment.”

And Penn State Health Hershey Medical Center announced Thursday that it’s one of 75 sites worldwide participating in a clinical trial evaluating the antiviral drug, remdesivir, for COVID-19.

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The drug is not approved anywhere for use outside of clinical trials, but has been previously tested in humans with Ebola virus disease and shown some benefit against SARS and MERS coronaviruses in animal models, the system said.

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