Study Finds That This Antidepressant May Reduce COVID-19 Hospitalizations

From the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials, medical professionals, and researchers were all in a race against an invisible enemy. Historically, the two best ways to combat the spread and associated mortality of a disease is through preventative measures and effective treatment options. While some drug companies and research centers were scrambling to develop new medications to combat COVID-19, others tried to determine if any already-existing medications could be repurposed effectively. Just recently pharmaceutical giant Merck announced their new anti-viral drug, Molnupiravir, cut hospitalizations and death in high-risk COVID patients by nearly 50 percent (via The New York Times). 

The past few days have brought more good news when a newly published study found that fluvoxamine, a cheap and readily available antidepressant medication, seemed to cut hospitalization rates and emergency services required by nearly one-third (via CNN). Fluvoxamine is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) commonly used to treat depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. While the exact mechanism of how it affects SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19 infections, remains unknown, it has been theorized to decrease the body's cytokine response to inflammatory triggers (via The Lancet). 

Study details

A total of nearly 1,500 people were included in the multi-center randomized controlled trial conducted in Brazil, and results were published in The Lancet. 741 participants were treated with a 10-day course of fluvoxamine twice a day, compared to 756 who were given a placebo. In the group who received fluvoxamine, 79 people or slightly less than 10 percent needed treatment in either the emergency department of hospital, compared to 119 people or approximately 16 percent in the placebo group. Additional findings noted a nearly 30% reduction in hospitalization and emergency services required. 

These findings are significant, as the full ten day course of treatment costs approximately four dollars (via CNN). That's right — four dollars. Which means this could very well be an option in impoverished countries struggling to get a grip on the deadly virus. While this study shows real promise, it is important to note that larger and more robust studies will be necessary before a definitive decision regarding fluvoxamine's real role in combatting COVID-19 can be solidified.