When you type “hydroxychloroquine coronavirus” into Google, the first thing you will see is a red alert sign, next to the phrase: “There is no specific drug to prevent or treat coronavirus disease (COVID-19). People may need supportive care to help them breathe.”
This drug has been touted by leaders such as Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro as a possible “cure” for Covid-19. Hydroxychloroquine has been known for decades in the treatment of malaria, as well as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Only preliminary studies on its effects against the novel coronavirus have come out — and, despite some encouraging signs, tests have only been conducted in patients in very severe conditions, even in Brazil.
But the endorsement from heads of state has skyrocketed the interest of Brazilians for the drug. According to several reports, pharmacies have run out of hydroxychloroquine to supply lupus patients, as people flock to get their hands on the medication being presented as a possible cure.
This enhanced interest can be measured on social media. The average number of tweets including “hydroxychloroquine” or simply “chloroquine” in Portuguese has risen from 957 to 2,110 since the president touted the drug — according to data journalism website Núcleo. On Google, searches have exploded, too. However, as reported by Bloomberg, the drug could kill someone with as much as just two grams.Over the weekend, a video of Mr. Bolsonaro talking about the drug — without warning about any possible negative outcome of its usage — was deleted by Twitter for violating its site policy. And the social media company has put up a pretty low bar for allowing misleading content in the past, even allowing Tesla chief executive officer Elon Musk to say “kids are immune” to Covid-19.