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What is the Actual Science Behind Hydroxychloroquine?

By Dustin Rowles | Miscellaneous | April 6, 2020 |

By Dustin Rowles | Miscellaneous | April 6, 2020 |


There has been an enormous amount of conversation about an anti-malarial drug called Hydroxychloroquine (or its close cousin, chloroquine), and about its effectiveness against Covid-19. The President has been loudly touting it, while other countries have been trying to get their hands on as much of it as possible. Dr. Anthony Fauci repeatedly says that its effectiveness has not been proven, while Trump repeatedly says, basically, “What do you have to lose? I bet it’ s great! Maybe I’ll take it.” Amid all of this, Hydroxychloroquine has become weirdly political: The right continues to push it despite nothing beyond anecdotal proof of its effectiveness because they apparently want to support Trump’s hunch. In a weird way, Trump seems to believe that if it is effective, he will get all the political credit for it.

The media, in turn, is also using Hydroxychloroquine as a wedge issue, asking Dr. Fauci what he thinks of Hydroxychloroquine before asking Trump what he thinks of Hydroxychloroquine, even though the media knows the answer both men will give. They just like the news that the chaos presents and they want to watch the world burn (note to White House journalists: The best questions you can ask the President during a pandemic is no questions at all because he has absolutely nothing of value to say).

So, let’s take a step back for a second. What is the actual science on Hydroxychloroquine? Does it work? Well, as Dr. Fauci has repeatedly stated, we don’t really know yet. There was a small, anecdotal study in France that was not peer-reviewed that suggested some benefit, but again, it was tiny. Only 26 patients actually took Hydroxychloroquine.

The good news is, there are a lot of smaller and bigger, randomized studies being conducted right now to determine the effectiveness of the drug. Among others, Penn State has started a big clinical trial, and Henry Ford health systems is seeking 3,000 volunteers right now for their clinical trial. The University of Minnesota, meanwhile, is giving it to people who live with others who have tested positive for the virus to see if it is effective in preventing infection.

There have, however, been a few smaller studies that have already been completed, and the results are something of a mixed bag. In Wuhan, a randomized study of 62 patients, the study showed that symptoms of patients with mild symptoms were significantly relieved after five days. The study showed that those who took the drug recovered more quickly than those in the placebo group. However, that was again a small study, and it was only conducted on patients with mild symptoms.

Another study out of France, however, showed that the drug was not effective in rapidly clearing the virus. However, that study was only conducted on 11 people, most of whom had comorbidities associated with poor outcomes, and they were more severe cases.

In other words, the two small studies combined have been inconclusive just as Dr. Fauci has suggested. However, whether Trump irresponsibly touts Hydroxychloroquine or not, the decision about whether to prescribe it for off-label use is ultimately up to the doctors. Listen to the nerds, y’all. Basically, this:

Personally, I’m rooting for another drug being tested right now: Ivermectin. It’s an anti-parasitic drug, and in labs only, an Australian study shows that it can kill the virus in 48 hours. However, scientists do not know yet if it’s effective in actual humans, or what the proper dosage might be. My favorite part of this story, however, is that I looked up Ivermectin, and it’s the ingredient in your dog’s heartworm and pinworm medication (it’s also used to treat head lice). In other words, if it works, it should be pretty easy to manufacture to scale. As with all of these treatments, however, we are months away from knowing whether we can use it.

In the meantime, our doctors — and not the President — will make our medical decisions, thank you very much. Also, I don’t know why this needs to be said, but it does: Do not hoard Hydroxychloroquine, do not prescribe Hydroxychloroquine to yourself, and do not ingest fish-tank cleaner because it contains chloroquine, because that will kill you.

Update: More anecdotal and not scientific evidence.

Header Image Source: NBC