Tampa General Hospital workers in clinical trial using hydroxychloroquine as COVID-19 preventative

Frontline healthcare workers in Tampa are participating in a clinical trial to see if a drug being used to treat COVID-19 can actually prevent the virus. It is part of a nationwide research program by HERO (Healthcare Worker Exposure Response and Outcomes) on hydroxychloroquine, an FDA-approved drug commonly used to treat malaria.

“Does this hydroxychloroquine medication work to prevent COVID-19?” said Dr. Seetha Lakshmi, an associate hospital epidemiologist at Tampa General Hospital and an assistant professor at USF Health.

That’s the question nearly 190 healthcare workers at Tampa General Hospital, including Dr. Lakshmi, hope to help answer. They will participate in an eight-week clinical trial for the drug’s effectiveness.

“Beyond PPE, personal protective equipment, there’s not much that they can do to protect themselves, and if this drug works, it will be a great resource or weapon against the pandemic,” said Lakshmi.

TGH also uses hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for some patients with COVID-19.

“It’s an anti-inflammation drug with an anti-virus property and minimum to no side effects on long term use that we know of,” said Lakshmi. “Hydroxychloroquine has been around the block a long time. We know its safety profile. People have been on this medication for 10, 15 years.”

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But instead of treatment, the study focuses on prevention.

Healthy frontline healthcare workers will take the drug or a placebo to see if it can actually stop the virus from spreading.

“For example, aspirin is used to prevent strokes in older patients, and this would be a similar kind of concept preventing an infection,” said Lakshmi.

And after eight weeks of the clinical trial, Lakshmi said she hopes for an answer.

“There’s a lot of information and misinformation around hydroxychloroquine with all the attention it has received,” she said. “I think that’s why the study is so important that we can answer the question does it prevent infection in healthcare workers or not.”

Another part of the HERO program is its registry where healthcare workers can share their concerns, any shortages or clinical experiences during the pandemic. There are 450 workers from TGH who are participating in the registry.

Any healthcare worker can sign up for the registry and see if they are eligible to participate in the clinical trial at www.heroesresearch.org. Doctors say that information also helps give perspective to the funding agencies.

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