This widely available antidepressant could revolutionize COVID treatment

A new study yielded promising results.

Doctor Delkhah Shahin checks on a 34 years old, unvaccinated, Covid-19 patient at Providence Cedars-...
APU GOMES/AFP/Getty Images

By now, we all know about the plethora of “miracle cures” that have emerged for COVID throughout the pandemic — from a pill that’s meant to treat parasites in horses to hydroxychloroquine, which people with lupus endured shortages of after selfish idiots hogged doses. Now, there’s a serious contender in the category of potential treatments that are widely available: fluvoxamine, a common antidepressant that could cut the chances of developing severe COVID by up to a third, according to a new Brazilian study.

The study, which was published in The Lancet Global Health, recruited 1,500 participants with COVID-19 who had high risk factors, including being unvaccinated. Half of them took 100 mg of fluvoxamine twice a day for ten days while the other half were given placebos. Researchers found that out of those who were actually given the fluvoxamine, 11% ended up in the ER, compared to 16% of those who didn’t take it at all. That presented a 32% decrease in the relative risk of severe illness, according to CNN. On top of that, there was only one death among patients who went through the full regimen of fluvoxamine, compared to 12 deaths among those who got the placebos.

In the U.S., fluvoxamine is sold under the brand name Luvox and is a fairly common medication for OCD and depression. One of the reasons it could help reduce the worst impacts of severe COVID is because it’s a type of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that regulates inflammation. In many older and immunocompromised patients, it’s this sort of out-of-control inflammation that destroys organs and weakens the body — eventually leading to severe illness and death, according to the University of Alberta.

Last year, a small but telling American study also tested the efficacy of fluvoxamine against severe illness in people with COVID. That study, published on the JAMA Network, took 152 adult patients and found that among those who were given fluvoxamine, none got sicker, compared to six people from the placebo group whose conditions got worse over time.

Recently, more companies have been successful at creating treatments that work for people who already have COVID, such as molnupiravir, which is expected to be cheap and widely accessible once fully approved. The difference with fluvoxamine, however, is that it’s already widely available (with a prescription) and won’t have to go through the same lengthy process it takes to approve a brand new drug for human use.

Although more studies will have to be conducted before COVID patients can start buying fluvoxamine for treatment, this is a very promising first step. So far, the FDA has not approved fluvoxamine for use outside of OCD and depression, but if the pill proves to be successful against COVID in more clinical trials, it could change the game and get us one step closer to making the virus less deadly, and less relevant, in our everyday lives.