A new study has found that those who were given a combination of hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin and zinc sulfate were 1.5 times more likely to recover and be discharged, and 44% less likely to die.

Researchers at the New York Grossman School of Medicine looked at 932 covid-19 patients hospitalized between March 2nd and April 5th. Half were given a combination of hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin and zinc sulfate, while the other half did not receive zinc sulfate.

The study provided the first evidence from living patients “that zinc sulfate in combination with hydroxychloroquine may play a role in therapeutic management for COVID-19”, the researchers said.

Although hydroxychloroquine is an FDA-approved drug  which has long been used to treat malaria, as well as the autoimmune diseases rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, its use in the Covid-19 crisis seems to have become politicised, primarily because US President Donald championed it as a treatment.

There have been mixed results from trials, with the British Medical Journal reporting today that a Chinese study showed patients who received the drug did not recover virus quicker from the coronavirus than those receiving standard care.  However, the British NHS has just paid £20 million to purchase large quantities of hydroxychloroquine.

The combination of the drug with zinc sulfate and the antibiotic azithromycin may be key to improving the patient’s chances of being discharged and decreasing their risk of dying, the New York researchers posited.

They said: “zinc may have a role in preventing the virus from progressing to severe disease, but once the aberrant production of systemic immune mediators is initiated, known as the cytokine storm, the addition of zinc may no longer be effective. Our findings suggest a potential therapeutic synergistic mechanism of zinc sulfate with hydroxychloroquine, if used early on in presentation with COVID-19.”

The three-drug combo did not change the average time patients spent in hospital, how long they spent on a ventilator or the total amount of oxygen required.

The paper from NYU Grossman School is a medical preprint and has yet to be peer-reviewed.