What is hydroxychloroquine, the drug taken by Donald Trump?

19 May 2020, 10:59 | Updated: 19 May 2020, 11:26

As Donald Trump claimed he's taking an anti-malaria drug to protect against coronavirus, a doctor told LBC the side effects easily outweigh any benefit. So what is hydroxychloroquine?

President Donald Trump revealed in a press briefing yesterday that he is taking a drug called hydroxychloroquine, even though there is no scientific evidence it can fight Covid-19.

His own government has warned the drug should only be administered for the virus in a hospital or research setting, due to potentially fatal side effects - so what is hydroxychloroquine? And why is Trump taking it?

Dr Chris Smith, a Consultant Virologist at Cambridge University Hospital, revealed why the myth has appeared that it may help protect you from coronavirus.

READ MORE: LBC goes inside an Intensive Care Unit fighting coronavirus

Where did the hydroxychloroquine myth begin?

"Chloroquine is more commonly used to treat malaria and hydroxychloroquine is its chemical relative which also used to treat an auto-immune condition called SLE.

"In the early phases of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, it appeared that it might be possible to treat some cases with this, because the Chinese were desperate and had nothing else to throw at this new virus.

"So they started adding various drugs to cells in a dish that were growing the virus and asking did they appear to make a difference to the growth trajectory of the virus. This one appeared to have a weak effect."

Donald Trump revealed he has been taking hydroxychloroquine
Donald Trump revealed he has been taking hydroxychloroquine. Picture: PA

Does hydroxychloroquine slow down Covid-19?

"They did some tests and gave it to patients. The data was a bit dodgy - not very robust, not many cases, not very well studied because the sample was very small."

"So now researchers in other countries - including this one - are actually giving it to patients to see if it makes a difference. And the consensus is it doesn't."

What are the side effects of hydroxychloroquine?

"All drugs have side effects. All drugs have consequences. Not all drugs are safe and it would be extremely irresponsible for someone to start taking a drug which has weak evidence at best that it's going to make a difference.

"But because you've got the chance of someone having quite severe side effects, under rare, but appreciable circumstances, it would not be appropriate to say let's prophilax the entire world with this, just on the off-chance it may make a small difference.

"Because of the way these agents work, there is a risk of getting heart problems with this."

What did Donald Trump say about hydroxychloroquine?

US President Donald Trump has revealed he is taking the unproven malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to protect himself against coronavirus.

When asked why he was taking the drug, Trump said he'd been taking it for a week and a half and added: "I think it's good, I've heard a lot of good stories."

Speaking at the White House on Monday, Trump told reporters: "A lot of good things have come out. You’d be surprised at how many people are taking it, especially the front-line workers. Before you catch it. The front-line workers, many, many are taking it."