What is hydroxychloroquine? The malaria drug being trialled in the US to treat coronavirus explained
This is everything you need to know about hydroxychloroquine as scientists race to find treatment for the continually spreading virus.
What is the drug?
The drug's full name is hydroxychloroquine, and is sold in the US under the brand name Plaquenil. It was approved in the 1950’s as an anti-malaria treatment.
Since then, the drug has been used to treat a variety of diseases and illnesses, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and even for complications regarding Lyme disease.
On the Lupus UK website, it states: “Hydroxychloroquine is generally the first line of treatment for someone who has been diagnosed with lupus.
“It is used for skin and joint involvement, muscle inflammation, fever, fatigue, pleurisy, to reduce the development of renal (kidney) disease and chronic damage, and for its steroid-sparing properties.”
Shows ‘very encouraging early results’
The president of the United States talked about the drug at a White House press conference on 19 March, saying: “It is known as a malaria drug, and it’s been around for a long time and it’s very powerful.
But the nice part is, it’s been around for a long time, so we know that if things don’t go as planned, it’s not going to kill anybody.”
President Trump explained that the drug has already shown “very encouraging early results” and that the plan is to make the drug available “almost immediately”.
Trump also mentioned that the Food and Drug Association (FDA) fast tracked the approval process for the drug, taking it “down from many, many months to immediate”.
Despite President Trump’s statements making it appear the drug had been approved by the FDA for coronavirus treatment, that is not yet the case.
The FDA stated that they are working closely with government agencies and academic centres to investigate the use of the drug to determine if it can be used to treat patients with “mild-to-moderate COVID-19”.
Is the UK testing it?
It’s been revealed that the first British patient has been put into a randomised trial for drugs which could help treat coronavirus.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “UK experts, scientists, expect to start trials of the first vaccine within a month.”
However, it has not been revealed what drugs are being tested, so it is unclear if the UK is hydroxychloroquine.
Coronavirus: the facts
What is coronavirus?
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.
What caused coronavirus?
The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.
How is it spread?
As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But.similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.
What are the symptoms?
The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.
What precautions can be taken?
Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.
As of Monday 16 March the government advised that everyone should be observing social distancing - avoiding unnecessary travel and working from home where possible. Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms now needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.
The government has also advised against going to the pub, out for dinner or partaking in any socialising with large groups. This has caused a number of closures across the country. Schools will close from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future and exams have been cancelled.
The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate.
For more information on government advice, please check their website here.
Should I avoid public places?
The advice now is to avoid public places and any non-essential travel. Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.
What should I do if I feel unwell?
Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.
When to call NHS 111
NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.