A new study has found fluvoxamine, a cheap antidepressant used to treat depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, lowered hospitalizations of high-risk adults with COVID-19.

The study was published on Wednesday in the Lancet Global Health journal. Researchers observed symptomatic adults, who had COVID-19 and were considered high-risk due to preexisting health conditions, across 11 cities in Brazil from January to August.

Of the nearly 1,500 individuals who participated in the study, around half received a placebo, and the others were given the fluvoxamine. The subjects took the pills for 10 days and were tracked for four weeks to see who ended up hospitalized. 

The high-risk adults with early diagnosed COVID-19 who received 100 mg of fluvoxamine, which is known to reduce inflammation, twice daily for 10 days had a lower need for hospitalization.

Results found 11% of the group that received the fluvoxamine and 16% that received the placebo were hospitalized.

Researchers have since shared their results with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which publishes treatment guidelines, and hope the World Health Organization will recommend the drug, which is already available in poor nations. 

“If WHO recommends this, you will see it widely taken up,” said Dr. Edward Mills, a co-author of the study. “We hope it will lead to a lot of lives saved.”

Using fluvoxamine to treat COVID-19 for the 10-day course would cost about $4. In comparison, treatment using the experimental antiviral by Merck would cost around $700 and antibody IV treatments would cost about $2,000.

Although researchers felt the effectiveness of the antidepressant was clear due to the results from the study, there are still grey areas.

Whether the drug could help lower-risk patients, what’s the best dosage, and if the pill should be combined with other treatments requires further research for a definitive answer.

the coronavirus pandemic has caused the shortage of the antidepressant drug zoloft the coronavirus pandemic has caused the shortage of the antidepressant drug zoloft Photo: Steve Buissinne - Pixabay