Study: Low-Cost Antidepressant Reduced COVID-19 Hospitalization Risk

    28 October 2021

    A new study has found that a low-cost antidepressant reduced the need for hospitalization among high-risk COVID-19 patients.

    The drug, called fluvoxamine, is normally used to treat mental health conditions such as depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

    This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19. (NIAID-RML via AP)
    This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19. (NIAID-RML via AP)

    Researchers decided to test the drug's effectiveness against COVID-19 because it is known to reduce inflammation. Many problems related to COVID-19 are caused by inflammation as the immune system overreacts to the infection.

    The ongoing research also tested other existing drugs to see if they could be effective treatments against COVID-19.

    The study involved nearly 1,500 Brazilians recently infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The individuals were at risk of serious sickness because of other health problems.

    About half the group took fluvoxamine at home for 10 days. The rest got a placebo. The progress of the individuals was followed for four weeks.

    Of those taking the drug, 11 percent needed hospitalization or an extended stay in the emergency room. That compared to 16 percent of those who received a placebo.

    The research results were reported Wednesday in the publication Lancet Global Health.

    The antidepressant costs a lot less than other available treatments for COVID-19. By comparison, antibody IV treatments cost about $2,000. An experimental antiviral drug for COVID-19 developed by Merck costs about $700 per course of treatment.

    The researchers have shared their results with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which publishes treatment guidelines. They are also hoping to receive a recommendation for the treatment from the World Health Organization (WHO).

    Leaders of the study said the drug could help provide low-cost protection against severe sickness or death in poor countries lacking COVID-19 vaccines.

    Dr. Edward Mills is with McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. He helped lead the research. He told The Associated Press that if the WHO does give fluvoxamine a recommendation, "you will see (the drug) widely taken up."

    Mills added that the drug is already highly available in many poor nations. "We hope it will lead to a lot of lives saved," he said.

    Some medical experts have said they believe a combination of different treatments will likely be used together to fight COVID-19 in the future.

    Dr. Paul Sax is with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts and Harvard Medical School. He was not involved in the study. He told the AP that fluvoxamine and Merck's COVID-19 drug work in different ways, but "may be complementary." Merck has asked health officials in the U.S. and around the world to approve its antiviral treatment.

    Questions remain about the amount of the antidepressant that should be given. The researchers also plan to study whether fluvoxamine can also help lower-risk patients and whether the drug should be combined with other treatments.

    The larger project looked at eight existing drugs to see if they could work against the coronavirus. The project is still testing a hepatitis drug. But others -- including metformin, hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin -- did not show good results.

    I'm Bryan Lynn.

    The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    obsessive-compulsive disorder – n. a mental condition in which a person has frequent, unwanted thoughts or feelings that make them feel that they have to repeat particular actions

    inflammation – n. a red, painful and often swollen area in or on a part of the body

    immune system – n. the cells and tissue in the body that fights against infection

    placebo – n. a substance that is given to a patient in a medical study that has no physical effect

    course – n. a fixed number of regular medical treatments

    recommendation – n. a piece of advice about what to do in a particular situation

    complement – v. to complete or enhance by providing something additional