Azithromycin in COVID-19 Patients: Pharmacological Mechanism, Clinical Evidence and Prescribing Guidelines

Drug Saf. 2020 Aug;43(8):691-698. doi: 10.1007/s40264-020-00976-7.


The global COVID-19 pandemic has led to a race to find medications that can improve the prognosis of the disease. Azithromycin, in association with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, has been proposed as one such medication. The aim of this review is to describe the pharmacological mechanism, clinical evidence and prescribing guidelines concerning azithromycin in COVID-19 patients. There is weak evidence on the antiviral and immunomodulating effects of azithromycin, which in addition is not based on results from COVID-19 patients specifically. Therefore, this antibacterial should be considered only as empirical treatment of community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), although not all current treatment guidelines are in agreement. After the initial expectations raised by a small trial, more recent evidence has raised serious safety concerns on the use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with azithromycin to treat COVID-19 patients, as all these drugs have arrhythmogenic potential. The World Health Organization has not made recommendations suggesting the use of azithromycin with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine as treatment for COVID-19, but some national organisations have taken a different position, recommending this as first-line treatment. Several scientific societies, including the American College of Cardiology, have cautioned about the risks of this treatment in view of the lack of evidence concerning its benefits.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Azithromycin / pharmacology*
  • Betacoronavirus* / drug effects
  • Betacoronavirus* / physiology
  • COVID-19
  • Coinfection* / diagnosis
  • Coinfection* / drug therapy
  • Coronavirus Infections* / drug therapy
  • Coronavirus Infections* / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections* / immunology
  • Humans
  • Medication Therapy Management / standards
  • Pandemics*
  • Patient Selection
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / drug therapy
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / immunology
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Azithromycin