Internet searches for unproven COVID-19 therapies in the United States


There are no highly effective prescription drug therapies supported by any reliable evidence for the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. However, fears among the public can lead to searches for unproven therapies. Therefore, when several high-profile figures, including entrepreneur Elon Musk and President Donald Trump, endorsed the use of chloroquine, a malarial prophylaxis drug, and hydroxychloroquine (with the antibiotic azithromycin), a lupus and rheumatoid arthritis treatment, to treat COVID-19, it drew massive public attention that could shape individual decision-making. This attention is especially troublesome because chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine (1) are thus far only known to inhibit severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 in vitro,1 (2) have potential cardiovascular toxic effects,2 and (3) can be confused with commercially available chloroquine-containing products, such as aquarium cleaner. Poisonings, including 1 fatality, attributed to persons taking chloroquine to prevent or treat COVID-19 without the supervision of a licensed physician have already been reported.3 To better understand the scope of demand for these drugs, we examined internet searches indicative of shopping for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.4
Theodore L. Caputi
Theodore L. Caputi
Economics & Health Researcher

My research interests include distributed robotics, mobile computing and programmable matter.