Research suggests that the inexpensive antidepressant Fluvoxamine may be useful in treating COVID-19

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Fluvoxamine vs COVID-19

In a study looking for existing drugs that could be used to treat coronaviruses, an inexpensive antidepressant reduced the need for hospitalization in adults at high risk for COVID-19.

Researchers tested a pill used to treat depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The reason is that this drug is known to reduce inflammation and has shown good results in a small study.

The researchers have shared their results with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which makes treatment recommendations, and are hoping for a recommendation from the World Health Organization (WHO).

If the WHO recommends this drug, it will be widely used,” says Dr. Edward Mills of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. We hope that many lives will be saved.”

The pills, called fluvoxamine, cost $4 for a single course of COVID-19 treatment. By comparison, intravenous antibody treatment costs about $2,000 and Merck’s experimental antiviral drug to treat COVID-19 costs about $700 per course. Some experts predict that eventually the various treatments will be used in combination to fight coronaviruses.

Researchers tested antidepressants on about 1,500 Brazilians who had recently contracted coronavirus and were at risk of serious illness because of other health problems, such as diabetes. About half took antidepressants at home for 10 days and the rest took lozenges. They were followed for four weeks to see who was admitted to hospital or spent long periods of time in the emergency department when the hospital was full.

The results showed that hospitalization or extended emergency room stays were required for 11% of patients in the pill pill group, compared to 16% of those in the non-pill group.

The findings, published Wednesday in The Lancet Global Health, were so strong that independent experts who monitored the study recommended stopping the pills as soon as possible because the results were clear.

Questions remain about the optimal dose, whether it will work in low-risk patients and whether the pills should be used in combination with other treatments.

A larger project was studying whether eight existing drugs would fight the pandemic virus. The project is still testing hepatitis drugs, but others such as metformin, hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin have not all proved effective.

Dr. Paul Sacks of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School was not involved in the study. Earlier this month, Merck secured approval for the antiviral drug from U.S. and European regulators.

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