What you need to know about coronavirus on Saturday, May 23

It’s not just that hydroxychloroquine doesn’t help Covid-19 patients. The drug makes them sicker.

A comprehensive study published yesterday in the medical journal The Lancet found that seriously ill Covid-19 patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine were more likely to die or develop irregular heart rhythms.

“Our data has very convincingly shown that across the world in a real-world population that this drug combination, whichever way you slice it or dice it, does not show any evidence of benefit, and in fact is immutably showing a signal of grave harm,” said Dr. Mandeep Mehra, the study’s lead author.

It’s not the first study to highlight the potentially harmful effects of the medication, but it is by far the largest. It analysed data from more than 96,000 patients across six continents.

The study comes just days after US President Donald Trump revealed that he has been taking the medication himself, despite the Food and Drug Administration’s stark 1,000-word warning about the risks.

The World Health Organization has also warned against using hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19. But Trump does have one high-profile ally in promoting it: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Sales of hydroxychloroquine have soared after Trump’s endorsements. That’s a problem for those who rely on the drug and who suddenly find themselves struggling to obtain it. Hydroxychloroquine is used to treat and prevent malaria and to treat auto-immune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Meanwhile, there was more disappointing news on potential Covid-19 coronavirus drugs yesterday. In the first major trial of remdesivir — the only approved Covid-19 specific drug — researchers found that it alone is not enough to help patients. The research showed the drug shortened the course of the illness, but was not a cure and it did not act quickly.

YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.

Q. How can someone spread coronavirus when asymptomatic? If they’re not sneezing or coughing, how can they infect others?

A: It’s easy for asymptomatic people to spread coronavirus, says Dr. Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at UCLA’s School of Public Health. “When you speak, sometimes you’ll spit a little bit,” she said. “You’ll rub your nose. You’ll touch your mouth. You’ll rub your eyes. And then you’ll touch other surfaces, and then you will be spreading virus if you are infected and shedding asymptomatically.”

Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.

WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY

Latin America: the new hot spot

For several days, Latin America has topped the United States and Europe in new recorded coronavirus cases.

Brazil reported more than 20,000 cases yesterday in the previous 24 hours, as hospitals struggle to cope. Yet President Bolsonaro continues to dismiss the threat, saying quarantines and lockdowns could have a worse impact on his country’s battered economy.

In Peru, the government announced it was extending its state of emergency until the end of June. The Andean country has the second-highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Latin America after Brazil.

In Mexico, health officials announced the highest single-day surge in deaths.

80 million babies at risk

The WHO warns that 80 million babies worldwide could be at risk of preventable diseases like measles and polio because of missed vaccinations.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted immunization programs in at least 68 countries.

And as clinics and hospitals around the world grapple with the pandemic, routine check-ups and non-essential treatments have been postponed.

Apples and oranges

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged yesterday it had combined results from viral and antibody coronavirus tests on its website.

Experts say this is unhelpful and potentially misleading, because antibody tests aren’t used to diagnose current infections or determine whether someone is potentially contagious. Instead, they indicate whether someone has been exposed to the virus in the past.

Combining the figures increases the number of conducted tests, but it can also skew a key indicator of how the pandemic is progressing: the percentage of tests that come back positive.

Information wars

Fighting misinformation is just as important as fighting the virus itself, says Dr. Mike Ryan of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program. Ryan says the WHO has invested heavily in myth-busting videos, infographics and cartoons.

Coronavirus conspiracy theories have spread rapidly on social media. But researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have discovered that nearly half the accounts propagating the Covid-19 conversations on Twitter could be automated bots.

Africa tops 100,000 cases

The coronavirus has spread to every country on the continent. But Africa’s mortality rate is low compared to other parts of the world. Its young population might explain the low numbers. The WHO points to another possible explanation: Many governments there were quick to impose confinement measures, which helped slow the spread.

But lockdowns have spurred other hardships. In Ghana, bodies have piled up in morgues since a ban on public gatherings. Many families have opted to store corpses in morgues for longer than usual, until they can hold a traditional funeral with many mourners, Zaina Adamu reports

ON OUR RADAR

  • Hertz filed for bankruptcy Friday night, the latest victim of the economic downturn sparked by the pandemic. The car rental company has operated since 1918.
  • Boris Johnson is under pressure to sack his aide Dominic Cummings after he and his wife reportedly breached lockdown measures by traveling across England to stay with his parents while showing symptoms of coronavirus. The British Prime Minister’s office denies that Cummings breached coronavirus guidelines.
  • A study of 16 pregnant women who tested positive for Covid-19 found evidence of injury to the placenta, the organ that acts as the gut, kidneys, liver and lungs for a fetus during pregnancy.
  • China has reported no new symptomatic Covid-19 cases for the first time since the pandemic started.
  • Starting June 8, travelers arriving in the UK will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. The CEO of Europe’s largest airline has slammed the plan as “idiotic and unimplementable.”
  • Golf titans Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will partner with NFL superstars Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in a charity golf match to raise money to fight the coronavirus.
  • Facebook, Twitter and other companies plan to make working from home the new normal. (As in forever.)
  • A hairstylist with coronavirus worked for eight days this month while symptomatic, exposing as many as 91 customers and coworkers in Missouri, US health officials said.

TODAY’S TOP TIPS

Summer is almost here, and it’s getting balmier by the day. You could spread out on the beach or cannonball into a community pool — but you don’t want to bring the virus home.

We asked two infectious disease experts how to have coronavirus-free fun at your favorite waterfronts. Here’s their advice for a sunny, safer summer.

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