This Antidepressant Could Help Reduce COVID-19 Hospitalizations
When it comes to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, health experts have a set of tasks going on, including preventing infections through generalized vaccinations and reducing serious illnesses (such as hospitalizations ) among those who to do contracting the virus.
As Americans await more information regarding vaccine recalls, including their availability to the general population, a new development appears to hold promise in reducing hospitalization rates for COVID-19 patients. A new study, published Wednesday, found that the antidepressant fluvoxamine could potentially reduce the number of COVID patients requiring urgent medical attention. (ICYDK: The first oral antiviral drug for COVID-19 could be on the way)
Fluvoxamine (brand name Luvox) is typically prescribed by doctors as a treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression, according to the Mayo Clinic. Available in generic form, the drug belongs to a group of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). ICYDK, serotonin is a hormone that works as a neurotransmitter in the brain, where it helps neurons communicate with each other and regulates mood and happiness, according to the Hormone Health Network. SSRIs – such as fluvoxamine along with Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, and others – work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain, thereby (hopefully) relieving mood-related conditions ( for example, anxiety, depression).
Now, you’re probably wondering what all of this has to do with COVID-19, a virus that appears to primarily affect the respiratory system. While “the mechanism for determining exactly how fluvoxamine may Help with the symptoms of COVID is still not completely clear, the main thought process is that it may reduce the inflammation produced by molecules called cytokines that can be triggered by SARS-CoV-2 [aka COVID-19] infection, ”says Vivek Cherian, MD, Chicago-based internal medicine physician at Amita Health.
As for the study, which was conducted by researchers in Brazil, the United States and Canada, the researchers examined 1,497 COVID-19 patients with at least one known risk factor for serious illness, such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease or being 50 years of age or older. The researchers gave about half of the patients a 10-day course of fluvoxamine, taken twice a day, while the other half received a placebo. The researchers then compared the hospitalization rates between the two groups. Patients in the study who received fluvoxamine were 32 percent less likely to be hospitalized than those in the placebo group. The result was even brighter for those who followed the diet strictly throughout the 10 days, with a 66% reduction in hospitalizations and a 91% reduction in deaths among those who took the drug as directed. COVID patient who received fluvoxamine died; in contrast, there were 12 deaths in the placebo group. Also of note: 84 patients did not complete treatment with fluvoxamine because they reported that they could not tolerate the drug. (FYI, some side effects of fluvoxamine may include difficulty breathing, urinating, or muscle twitching, according to the Mayo Clinic).
Video: Affordable antidepressant found to reduce risk of COVID-19 hospitalization (Veuer)
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The news comes amid a handful of other smaller studies (conducted as early as December 2020), all showing similar results regarding the effect of fluvoxamine on COVID-19.
While this looks promising, Dr Cherian agrees that these early results are limited and that more information is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn. “My first take-away point is that while this looks promising (especially since the drug is cheap and can be widely available), the impact on more serious outcomes is still unclear,” says he. Additionally, since vaccinated patients were not included in this trial, Dr Cherian notes that the potential benefit (if any) of fluvoxamine on vaccinated people is unknown – an important factor as increasingly Americans are getting their shots and / or boosters. (FYI: The FDA should approve the “Mix and Match” approach for COVID boosters)
Always, The New York Times reports that the new information could open the door for more research on fluvoxamine and / or other similar drugs as a treatment for COVID-19. What if you’re one of the 11% of Americans who already take an SSRI? It is not known how this can affect your risk of COVID-19. Much more information needs to be evaluated to determine if there is a correlation between less severe COVID cases and those taking SSRIs, fluvoxamine or others, says Dr Cherian.
“Assuming more data and trials support the effectiveness of this drug, more studies would still be needed” to determine if these results might be true for all SSRIs, and if or these drugs could in fact be used interchangeably to deal with COVID-19, he said. said. As for people who are already taking fluvoxamine, in particular? “There is no known correlation between people already taking fluvoxamine and whether they have experienced less severe COVID symptoms,” says Dr Cherian.
Dr Cherian also implores that there are still many tools readily available to help reduce your risk of experiencing severe COVID, namely COVID-19 vaccines. “Vaccines are extremely effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death,” he says. And when it comes to treatment, “there are only two drugs approved by the FDA to treat serious COVID-19 infection: the antiviral remdesivir and the corticosteroid dexamethasone.” (Related: How Effective is the COVID-19 Vaccine?)
As more and more research is done, we will be better equipped to handle this global pandemic, notes Dr Cherian. “Actively working on drugs to treat people with COVID-19 – in addition to administering vaccines – will ultimately allow us to have a full arsenal to finally put this pandemic behind us,” he said. So take a deep breath, continue to use the tools already available to you, and stay tuned to learn more about the fight to turn the corner against COVID-19 once and for all.
The information in this story is accurate at the time of posting. As updates on the COVID-19 coronavirus continue to evolve, it is possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since the initial publication. We encourage you to regularly check resources such as the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department for the most recent data and recommendations.