This Antidepressant Might Help Reduce COVID-19 Hospitalizations

A new study illustrates how the antidepressant fluvoxamine can be a potential game-changer in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

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When it comes to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, health experts have a collection of ongoing tasks, including the prevention of infections by way of widespread vaccinations and curtailing serious illness (such as hospitalizations) in those who do contract the virus.

As Americans await more information regarding the vaccine boosters, notably their availability for the general population, a new development seems to hold some promise in reducing hospitalization rates for COVID-19 patients. A new study, which was published Wednesday, found that fluvoxamine, an antidepressant, could potentially reduce the number of COVID patients requiring urgent medical care. (ICYDK: The First Oral, Antiviral Medicine for COVID-19 Could Be On Its 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 as a generic, the drug belongs to a group of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). ICYDK, serotonin is a hormone that functions as a neurotransmitter in the brain, where it helps neurons communicate with one another 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 levels of serotonin in the brain, thereby (hopefully) alleviating mood-related conditions (e.g. anxiety, depression).

Now, you're probably wondering what any of this has to do with COVID-19, a virus that seems to primarily impact the respiratory system. While "the mechanism for how exactly fluvoxamine may help with COVID symptoms is still not completely clear, the main thought process is it may reduce inflammation produced by molecules called cytokines that can be triggered by SARS-CoV-2 [aka COVID-19] infection," explains Vivek Cherian, M.D., a Chicago-based internal medicine physician at Amita Health.

In terms of the study, which was conducted by researchers in Brazil, the U.S., and Canada, researchers looked at 1,497 COVID-19 patients with at least one known risk factor for severe disease, such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or being 50 years of age or older. Researchers gave roughly half the patients a 10-day course of fluvoxamine, taken twice a day, while the other half received a placebo. Researchers then compared the rates of hospitalization 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 outcome was even brighter for those who stuck to the regimen strictly throughout the 10-day course, with a 66 percent reduction in hospitalization and a 91 percent reduction in death among those who took the medication as directed. One COVID patient given fluvoxamine died; on the other hand, there were 12 deaths among the placebo group. Also worth noting: 84 patients did not complete the course of fluvoxamine because that they reported not being able to tolerate the medication. (FYI, some side effects of fluvoxamine can include trouble breathing, urinating, or twitching, according to the Mayo Clinic).

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 it seems promising, Dr. Cherian agrees that these initial findings are limited and more information is needed before definitive conclusions can be drawn. "My first takeaway from this is that while this sounds promising (especially since the medication is cheap and can be made widely available) the impact on more severe outcomes is still not clear," he says. Additionally, since vaccinated patients were not included in this trial, Dr. Cherian notes that the potential benefit (if any) of fluvoxamine on vaccinated individuals is unknown — an important factor as more and more Americans get their vaccines and/or booster shots. (FYI: The FDA Is Expected to Approve the 'Mix and Match' Approach for COVID Boosters)

Still, The New York Times reports that the new information might open the door for more research on fluvoxamine and/or other similar medications as a treatment for COVID-19. And, if you're among the 11 percent of Americans who already take an SSRI. It's unclear how that may affect your COVID-19 risk. Much more information needs to be assessed to determine if there's a correlation between less-severe COVID cases and those who take SSRIs, fluvoxamine, or others, says Dr. Cherian.

"Assuming more data and trials support the effectiveness of this medication, more studies would still be needed" to determine if these results could be true for all SSRIs, and whether or these drugs could in fact be used interchangeably for treating COVID-19, he says. As for people who are already taking fluvoxamine, specifically? "There is no known correlation to people already taking fluvoxamine and if they've experienced less severe COVID symptoms," says Dr. Cherian.

Dr. Cherian also implores that there are still plenty of tools readily available to help reduce your risk of experiencing severe COVID — namely, the COVID-19 vaccines. "Vaccines are extremely effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death," he says. And as for treatment, "there are only two drugs that are FDA-approved for treating a severe COVID-19 infection: the anti-viral remdesivir and the corticosteroid dexamethasone." (

As more and more research is done, we'll be better and better equipped to handle this global pandemic, notes Dr. Cherian. "Actively working on medications to treat individuals with COVID-19 — in addition to vaccine administration — will eventually lead to us having a full arsenal at our disposal to finally put this pandemic behind us," he says. So take a deep breath, continue utilizing the tools already at your disposal, and stay tuned for more in the fight to turn the corner against COVID-19 once and for all.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it's possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.

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