What to Know About Hydroxychloroquine

President Trump revealed on Monday that he had been taking an anti-malaria drug as a preventive measure against the coronavirus, the same medicine that he has been promoting for two months with scant evidence of its efficacy and despite several warnings of dangerous side effects.

The drug, hydroxychloroquine, has been invoked by Mr. Trump repeatedly since March during White House briefings on the coronavirus pandemic despite the reservations of doctors and scientists, including some advising the president. He even called the drug, which has been promoted by some conservative pundits, a “game changer.”

Here is what we know about the drug:

What is hydroxychloroquine?

Hydroxychloroquine is a prescription medicine that was approved decades ago to treat malaria. It is also used to treat autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. It is sometimes referred to by its brand name, Plaquenil, and is closely related to chloroquine, which is also used to treat malaria.

Another reason the drug has been considered for coronavirus patients is that it can rein in an overactive immune system, which is why it is used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. In some severe cases of Covid-19, the immune system seems to go into overdrive and cause inflammation that can damage the lungs and other organs. Doctors hope hydroxychloroquine might calm the condition, sometimes called a cytokine storm, but so far there is no proof that it has that effect.

Can hydroxychloroquine protect you from catching the virus?

There is no evidence that hydroxychloroquine can prevent coronavirus infection. However, researchers at the University of Minnesota and the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit are testing the drug in people who live with coronavirus patients to see whether it can protect them.

Is hydroxychloroquine approved by the Food and Drug Administration?

Yes, but for malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, not for Covid-19. For decades, doctors have been legally allowed to prescribe it for any condition they think it might help, a practice called off-label use.

Researchers say those studies are essential to find out whether the drug works against the coronavirus. If it does not, time and money can be redirected to other potential treatments.

Over all, it is considered relatively safe for people who do not have underlying illnesses that the drug is known to worsen. But it is not known whether hydroxychloroquine is safe for severely ill Covid-19 patients, who may have organ damage from the virus.

If I can get hydroxychloroquine, should I take it to prevent coronavirus infection?

No, especially not without consulting a doctor who knows your medical history and what other medications you are taking. There is no proof that it works. And if it is being sold on the street or via the internet, it may be fake or unsafe.

At this point, the best way to avoid infection is to practice the social-distancing and quarantine measures recommended by public health authorities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that people wear cloth masks in public and wash their hands regularly.

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