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Trial looks to see if hydroxychloroquine can help prevent COVID-19

Tampa General Hospital and USF Health are participating in a nation-wide study to determine if the drug can be used to prevent catching the virus.

TAMPA, Fla. — While hydroxychloroquine is no longer showing promise as a cure for COVID-19, researchers are hoping that it might be able to play a different role.

“Hydroxychloroquine has anti-virus properties. And that is the real question: is this anti-viral property going to protect us from getting COVID-19," explained Dr. Seetha Lakshmi, an assistant professor of infectious disease at USF Health and associate hospital epidemiologist at Tampa General Hospital. 

Dr. Lakshmi is helping to lead the study into hydroxychloroquine's impacts here in Tampa Bay. 

The drug, currently used to prevent malaria and deal with arthritis, has side effects, like most other drugs. Certain side effects include developing arrhythmia and an irregular heartbeat.

“Rather than starting from a drug that is brand new, that has to go through multiple phases, this is a medicine that we know we’ve been using for many many years. We know the safety profile," Dr. Lakshmi said.

Because the drug is FDA approved for other uses, the study will be relatively fast. 

“Within like eight to 12 weeks we want to find out if there is a medicine that works for preventing COVID-19 in healthcare workers and we want to do it right," Dr. Lakshmi explained.

The study, which will pull from the Healthcare Worker Exposure Response & Outcomes (HERO) Registry, involves 15,000 healthcare workers--  with 375 coming from USF Health and Tampa General. 

Half will be given hydroxychloroquine while the other half is given a placebo. “And we follow them and see who got more COVID-19. Is it the ones who are getting hydroxychloroquine, or the ones who are getting placebo," Dr. Lakshmi said.

The hope is to find a way to better protect health care workers and those on the front line fighting this pandemic. 

“Health care workers, we all wake up, we want to do the best for our patients," Dr. Lakshmi said. "And we are out there fighting this with all our goodwill, and might, and strength, and spirit, but to have a little more ammunition would be great.”

The study is filling up fast, but there are still opportunities for healthcare professionals to sign up for the registry and volunteer for the study. 

Anyone with questions relating to the study can call TGH at 813-844-2673.

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