High-profile coronavirus drug speculation fires up internet searches

Internet searches for purchasing hydroxychloroquine, a drug commonly used to treat malaria, jumped 1,389 percent after high-profile claims were made that it could fight COVID-19, a new study shows.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, examined internet searchers originating from the U.S. that included certain search terms, including chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, from Feb. 1 to March 29.

The estimated number of searches for buying hydroxychloroquine increased over the study period: from 494 Feb. 1, to 871 March 16, when entrepreneur Elon Musk endorsed the drugs. The estimated searches jumped again, to 9,006 March 22, a few days after President Donald Trump endorsed the drug as a COVID-19 treatment.

The estimated internet searches dipped to 3,625 March 29, about a week after news reports on chloroquine-related poisonings were published.

After high-profile claims, searches for buying hydroxychloroquine increased by 1,389 percent.

"The first and largest spike in searches corresponded directly with Musk's tweet and Trump's first televised endorsements, respectively," researchers wrote.

Theodore L. Caputi
Theodore L. Caputi
Economics & Health Researcher

My research interests include public health, health innovation, and health care.