Fact Check: Can Anti-Malaria Drug Cure COVID-19?
A WhatsApp message claims that a drug 'Chloroquine/ Azithromycin' is the drug for COVID-19.
It further claims that a doctor from New York has said that specific doses of these drugs have led to " Zero deaths, Zero Hospitalizations". One of our community members asked us to verify the claim.
Doctor Makes Claim On Fox News
Sean Hannity who hosts the Fox News's show 'Hannity', had read out a letter from Dr Vladimir Zelenko, a family practitioner from Monroe, New York who claims to have achieved a 100% success rate in preventing hospitalisation for 500 coronavirus patients using a combination of three different drugs.
Dr. Zelenko had earlier joined Sean Hannity on his radio program to discuss the results from his test.
"Mr. Vice President, I'm holding up a letter. I'm going to read from it from a second, from a doctor in the New York area, and if I may read from it -- he has now worked with his associates and he has a regimen," he dramatically held up the letter and said.
"Hydroxychloroquine, 200 milligrams twice a day, five days. Azithromycin, 500 milligrams once a day, five days. Zinc sulfate, 220 milligrams once a day for five days. This is what he has seen, he and his team have now treated approximately 350 patients in Kiryas Joel, it was an area of New York that was hit particularly hard and another 150 patients and other New York areas," he read the letter. "We have had zero deaths, zero hospitalisations, zero intubations, zero," the doctor allegedly said in his letter.
"Well, what we see in some of those anecdotal studies, we are going to put to the test. The president has been working, we've been working with companies across the country," the Vice President, Mike Pence said in reply.
This claim was also shared on Facebook. The caption accompanying the post hailed the drug as a miracle antidote.
"Huge! Results From Breaking Chloroquine Study Show 100% Cure Rate For Patients Infected With The Coronavirus," the caption read. The post was later flagged as part of Facebook's efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed.
Chloroquine can cure COVID-19
The claim is misleading. While studies show that the drug might be useful to treat certain symptoms, more research streamlined on its effectiveness against COVID-19 is required.
The US health officials have clarified that use of Chloroquine as a drug against COVID-19 is only anecdotal and much more study is needed. A new French study indicates that chloroquine might help. But even its authors have acknowledged the study is small and the findings are preliminary.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the most visible U.S. government expert on coronavirus, said evidence for chloroquine is only anecdotal and much more research is needed.
What is Chloroquine?
Chloroquine phosphate is in a class of drugs called antimalarials and amebicides. It is used to prevent and treat malaria. It is also used to treat amebiasis.
Another prescription tablet, hydroxychloroquine, sold under the brand name Plaquenil and as a generic, also can be used to prevent malaria, although it is more of arthritis medicine.
Debunking The Facebook Post
The claim on Facebook is the same headline of an article on TeaParty.org from the Gateway Pundit. The Gateway Pundit which is a conservative website, published this article on March 19, 2020, the same day as the Facebook post.
The article talks about an interview during Fox News talk show host Laura Ingraham did three days earlier with Gregory Rigano about a chloroquine study.
According to the article, "Laura invited Dr Gregory Rigano, the co-author of the study to discuss the latest findings. Dr Rigano said their study found that those COVID-19 patients who took hydroxy-chloroquine were found free of the disease in 6 days. The patients were testing negative for the coronavirus in six days! Dr Rigano also said taking chloroquine could act as a preventative."
The article mentions that Rigano is a co-author of the study, however, Rigano is not listed as a co-author.
Contrary to the article's claims, Rigano is not a doctor, but a Juris doctor ( highest law degree in the United States, represents professional recognition that the holder has a doctoral degree in law) or a lawyer in Melville, N.Y.
Unlike the headline, the article does not state there is a 100% cure for coronavirus.
Results Of The French Study
Titled 'HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE AND AZITHROMYCIN AS A TREATMENT OF COVID-19' the French study does indicate chloroquine has some promise for treating the coronavirus.
The study states that "hydroxychloroquine is efficient in clearing viral nasopharyngeal carriage of SARS-CoV-2 in COVID-19 patients in only three to six days, in most patients."
The study however also talks about its limitations.
"Our study has some limitations including small sample size, limited long-term outcome follow-up, and dropout of six patients from the study, however in the current context, we believe that our results should be shared with the scientific community," it reads.
At a news conference Dr Fauci, who has served as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, was asked a question referring to a coronavirus news conference the previous day where President Trump had spoken positively about chloroquine.
When asked on the evidence to suggest that hydroxychloroquine might be used as a prophylaxis against COVID-19 Dr Fauci said that the evidence is only anecdotal. The study was not done in a controlled, clinical trial. Therefore a definitive statement cannot be made about this particular evidence.
Reportedly an Arizona man died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate believing it would protect him from coronavirus. The man's wife, who also ingested the substance is under critical care, reported NBC news.
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