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The antidepressant fluvoxamine can keep COVID-19 patients out of the hospital

An inexpensive, easy-to-take pill could be the next weapon in the arsenal against COVID-19. Taking the antidepressant fluvoxamine within days of showing symptoms of an infection can dramatically cut the risk of hospitalization and death, suggests the largest trial to date of this FDA-approved generic drug as a COVID-19 treatment.

In newly infected COVID-19 patients at high risk of complications, a 10-day course of the antidepressant fluvoxamine cut hospitalizations by two-thirds and reduced deaths by 91 percent in patients who tolerated the medicine, researchers report October 27 in the Lancet Global Health.

Fluvoxamine is commonly prescribed for obsessive-compulsive disorder and acts by increasing levels of the brain chemical serotonin between nerve cells. Aside from those effects, the drug has other biological properties that could quell inflammation triggered by COVID-19, says child psychiatrist Angela Reiersen of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. She stumbled onto the idea to test fluvoxamine as a COVID-19 treatment while scouring papers during her own bout of illness early in the pandemic.

“This is an existing medicine with two to three decades of clinical use — something millions of people have taken,” says David Boulware, an infectious disease physician and researcher at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis. “It’s available at every pharmacy in the U.S., and [a 10-day course] costs $10.” By comparison, a five-day course of Merck’s antiviral molnupiravir — another oral drug that can protect people from serious COVID-19 — carries a $700 price tag (SN: 10/1/21).

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