Hydroxychloroquine is part of the online conversation, again
By Katherine J. Wu
President Donald Trump’s announcement Friday that he tested positive for the coronavirus has reignited an online fervor over hydroxychloroquine, a drug repeatedly promoted and taken by Trump despite a lack of evidence that it effectively treats or prevents COVID-19.
Advocates of the drug have taken to Twitter and Facebook over the past few days to recommend hydroxychloroquine as a course of treatment for Trump. Among them was Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz. On Friday, Biggs passed on his well wishes to the president on Twitter before encouraging him and the first lady, Melania Trump, who also contracted the coronavirus, “to take hydroxychloroquine to assist with their recoveries.”
Over the weekend, other Twitter users also posted that Trump should use hydroxychloroquine, with some calling it a “miracle drug.” The hashtag #hydroxychloroquine popped up frequently on Twitter, with others posting under the hashtag #HCQWORKS.
All of the online activity means it’s a good time to sort through what we know about hydroxychloroquine.
The drug has long been used to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. At the start of the pandemic, a handful of small, poorly designed studies suggested that it could block the coronavirus from replicating in cells.
Since then, the data on hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness against the virus has been mixed. The early, seemingly promising results, bolstered by political pressure, prompted the Food and Drug Administration to grant the drug an emergency authorization for use in very sick COVID-19 patients. Follow-up studies, however, found that the drug neither sped recovery nor prevented healthy people from contracting the coronavirus or progressing to serious disease.
The FDA ultimately revoked its emergency approval. The agency now warns that hydroxychloroquine can cause dangerous abnormalities in heart rhythm in coronavirus patients. Researchers have also conducted large reviews concluding that hydroxychloroquine does not benefit COVID-19 patients and have reaffirmed the risks of side effects in these individuals.
Still, the drug has been championed by some — including Trump, who praised it through the summer.
So what treatment is Trump, who has been hospitalized at Walter Reed military hospital, actually receiving?
His doctor, Sean P. Conley, has said that Trump received an infusion of an experimental antibody treatment developed by drugmaker Regeneron and was also taking zinc, vitamin D, melatonin, aspirin and a generic version of the heartburn treatment Pepcid. Conley has also said the president has begun a five-day course of remdesivir, an antiviral drug given emergency use authorization from the FDA to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients. And Sunday, Conley said that Trump had been given the steroid dexamethasone, which has been shown to help patients who are severely ill with COVID-19 but can be harmful for patients with mild or moderate cases of the disease.
Hydroxychloroquine was not mentioned by Trump’s medical team. That prompted some on Twitter to speak out on what they saw as an omission in Trump’s treatment.