Hydroxy-Who?

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have been making their appearance in conversations surrounding COVID-19, but what exactly are they?

Hydroxychloroquine is a drug classified as an antimalarial. It is used as a preventative and treatment option for malaria. It also is used to treat those with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Similarly, chloroquine is an antimalarial drug. It also can treat amebiasis.

President Trump first mentioned the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment option on March 19, prompting online discussion and criticism from the medical community.

“The nice part is, it’s been around for a long time, so we know that if it — if things don’t go as planned, it’s not going to kill anybody… And it’s shown very encouraging — very, very encouraging early results. And we’re going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately,” Trump said at the White House news briefing.

However, the claim that the drug is completely without risk is unequivocally false. Mayo Clinic cardiologist Michael Ackerman and his colleagues published guidance for physicians in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. He said it was “inexcusable” to disregard hydroxychloroquine’s potential side effects. The biggest risk? Drug-induced sudden cardiac death.

The Food and Drug Administration authorized an emergency use approval to distribute the drugs to hospitals around the U.S. on March 29.

A study in Brazil was put on hold after a number of coronavirus patients that had taken chloroquine began to show irregular heart rates, putting them at risk for the potentially fatal heart arrhythmia. 

"Yes, these medications overall are really, really safe, so in that sense the president is right. But really safe in a population sense doesn't mean that drug is going to be safe enough for the particular patient I'm about to treat," Ackerman said.

However, the national conversation surrounding hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine’s potential has already began trending. After Trump’s first reference to the drugs, tens of thousands of Tweets per hour were made about it in late March.