Covid breakthrough as common prescription drugs slash deaths in boost to virus fight

Controlling Covid is a 'multi-layered operation' says Dr Pankhania

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A study showed that adults patients who take a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), particularly Prozac and Luvox, were less likely to die with the virus than those who don’t take the drugs.SSRIs, which are usually used to treat depression, are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. The research teams from the University of California San Fransisco and Stanford University analyse data from the health records database of over 83,584 patients who had tested positive for coronavirus between January and September in 2020.

They compared the outcomes with 80,283 matched control patients who did not have an SSRI prescription.

The average patient age was 63.8 years.

The researchers found that the relative risk of death in the 3,401 patients who did have a prescription of the common antidepressant called Prozac, also known as fluoxetine, was eight percent less than the group of 6,892 control patients who did not take antidepressants.

Of the 470 patients taking Prozac, 9.8 percent died, compared with 13.3 percent of control patients.

The researchers explained that the possible benefits of taking SSRIs if you have COVID-19 may include the ability of the drugs to reduce the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, control damaging aspects of the inflammatory response, and stop the entry of SARS-CoV-2 into cells.

They pointed out that some studies of SSRIs show that they produce antiviral effects.

But the researchers did warn that while the study produced some promising results, there could have been other factors in play that had an impact on the results.

They wrote in the research paper: “These findings suggest that SSRIs, if proven effective, could be a therapeutic option to reduce mortality among patients with COVID-19.

“Further research and large, randomized clinical trials are needed to elucidate the effect of SSRIs generally, or more specifically of fluoxetine and fluvoxamine, on the severity of COVID-19 outcomes.”

But lead author Tomiko Oskotsky, MD, assured that the results of the study are still encouraging.

She said: “It’s important to find as many options as possible for treating any condition.

“A particular drug or treatment may not work or be well tolerated by everyone. Data from electronic medical records allow us to quickly look into existing drugs that could be repurposed for treating COVID-19 or other conditions.”

This also comes after a trial of fluvoxamine in Brazil, another antidepressant, was also shown to reduce the risk of hospitalisation in people who contract the virus.

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Allan Young, director of Centre for Affective Disorders, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London, who reviewed the study, said: “Although further studies are needed, this raises the prospect of repurposing these antidepressants as treatments for COVID-19.”

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