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This April 7, 2020, file photo shows a bottle of hydroxychloroquine tablets in Texas City, Texas. (AP) This April 7, 2020, file photo shows a bottle of hydroxychloroquine tablets in Texas City, Texas. (AP)

This April 7, 2020, file photo shows a bottle of hydroxychloroquine tablets in Texas City, Texas. (AP)

Daniel Funke
By Daniel Funke May 19, 2020

Hydroxychloroquine is not proven to treat COVID-19 or radiation sickness

If Your Time is short

  • There is no cure or vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

  • Some studies have found that hydroxychloroquine could help alleviate symptoms associated with COVID-19, but the research is not conclusive.

  • Health officials have not listed hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for radiation sickness.

A popular Facebook post ties a recurring falsehood about a potential coronavirus treatment to a conspiracy theory about 5G cell phone networks.

"Hydroxychloroquine cures this ‘virus,’" reads the text post, which was published May 14 in an anti-vaccine group targeting billionaire Bill Gates. "It just so happens this is the treatment used for radiation sickness!!"

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

Since President Donald Trump first touted the drug as a potential coronavirus treatment during a March press briefing, we have fact-checked dozens of claims about hydroxychloroquine, which has previously been used for treating malaria and inflammatory disorders such as lupus and arthritis. Seeing as Trump is now taking the drug to lessen symptoms in case he is sickened with COVID-19, we figured we should check this post, too.

(Screenshot from Facebook)

The post is inaccurate. We reached out to the original poster for their sources, but we haven’t heard back.

There is no cure or vaccine for the novel coronavirus. Some studies have found that hydroxychloroquine could help alleviate symptoms associated with COVID-19, but the research is not conclusive.

Two studies, one from France and one from China, found that hydroxychloroquine helped people clear the virus quickly and alleviate symptoms. But two other studies found that the drug had no discernible effect on the coronavirus. A more recent, large-scale study of nearly 1,400 New York-area patients with moderate to severe COVID-19 also found that patients fared no better by taking hydroxychloroquine.

With more than 50 studies in the works, as well as a clinical trial from the National Institutes of Health, it’s too soon to say whether hydroxychloroquine is a viable treatment for the coronavirus. The Food and Drug Administration has warned that the drug’s use outside of hospitals could contribute to heart rhythm problems.

The Facebook post’s claim about radiation sickness is also inaccurate.

Hydroxychloroquine is not listed by the CDC or the Mayo Clinic as a treatment for radiation sickness, which is caused by a large dose of radiation over a short period of time. The condition is treated by removing radioactive particles outside the body or using substances like potassium iodide to reduce damage to internal organs.

RELATED: Hydroxychloroquine and coronavirus: what you need to know

Why is radiation sickness mentioned in the post? It has to do with recurring conspiracy theories about 5G, Gates and Dr. Anthony Fauci — all of which are popular among anti-vaccine groups on Facebook.

For months, conspiracy theorists and alternative health practitioners have claimed that 5G data networks, the latest upgrade to speed up wireless internet connections, could have adverse health effects. Some experts are concerned about the potential effects of the millimeter waves used in 5G technology, but there is no evidence that they cause radiation sickness.

"To date, and after much research performed, no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies," the World Health Organization wrote in February.

Both Gates and Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have tempered expectations for hydroxychloroquine and stressed the importance of developing a coronavirus vaccine. Those views have fueled conspiracy theories, widely shared in anti-vaccine groups, about both men’s connections to the pharmaceutical industry.

The Facebook post is inaccurate. We rate it False.

Our Sources

Associated Press, "Trump says he’s taking malaria drug in case he gets virus," May 18, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Medical Countermeasures (Treatments) for Radiation Exposure and Contamination, accessed May 18, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Information for Clinicians on Investigational Therapeutics for Patients with COVID-19, accessed May 18, 2020

Columbia University Irving Medical Center, "Hydroxychloroquine: First Large Study Does Not Support Routine Use in COVID-19 Patients," May 7, 2020

C-SPAN, "President Trump and Coronavirus Task Force Brief Reporters," March 19, 2020

Facebook post, May 14, 2020

Mayo Clinic, Radiation sickness, accessed May 18, 2020

National Institutes of Health, "NIH begins clinical trial of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin to treat COVID-19," May 14, 2020

PolitiFact, "A 100% COVID-19 cure? No, chloroquine effectiveness only anecdotal," March 23, 2020

PolitiFact, "Don’t fall for conspiracy about Dr. Anthony Fauci, hydroxychloroquine," May 6, 2020

PolitiFact, "Facebook posts falsely claim Dr. Fauci has millions invested in a coronavirus vaccine," April 15, 2020

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking a conspiracy theory about 5G and the coronavirus," April 3, 2020

PolitiFact, "What early research actually says about hydroxychloroquine and the coronavirus," April 7, 2020

U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Emergency Use Authorization, May 18, 2020

U.S. Food and Drug Administration, "FDA cautions against use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for COVID-19 outside of the hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems," April 24, 2020

The Washington Post, "Bill Gates: Here’s how to make up for lost time on covid-19," March 31, 2020

World Health Organization, 5G mobile networks and health, Feb. 27, 2020

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Hydroxychloroquine is not proven to treat COVID-19 or radiation sickness

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