OCD medicine fluvoxamine might prevent serious COVID cases, new research suggests

The OCD drug fluvoxamine can be repurposed for COVID-19 patients due to its anti-inflammatory effects, according to Washington University psychiatry professor Eric Lenze. Photo by Shutterstock.

Doctors have searched furiously for an effective treatment for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. But aside from vaccines and maybe monoclonal antibodies, few treatments have worked for the worst symptoms of the virus. Now new research finds that a drug meant to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder could help patients. It’s called fluvoxamine and is an antidepressant. 

Dr. Eric Lenze led a clinical trial for fluvoxamine use in COVID patients, and he says the drug can be repurposed due to its anti-inflammatory effects.

In the trial, Lenze says patients who received fluvoxamine had COVID symptoms that did not worsen, and they didn’t develop lung damage, hypoxia (low oxygen levels). They also didn’t need hospitalization or intubation. He notes that of the subjects who received a placebo, 8% developed worse symptoms. 

“[Fluvoxamine] basically dampens down or normalizes the excessive inflammation that occurs. So we think that in some percentage of people who have initially mild COVID, even as their body is clearing out the virus, the immune response can be excessive. It can actually hurt the patient themselves. And it's that excessive immune or inflammatory response that we think is reduced by fluvoxamine,” he tells KCRW.  

Lenze says the drug would have to be used at the onset of infection and taken for 10-15 days. 

But he points out that although the drug is safe and has been used for years, it can cause mild side effects such as nausea. 

Credits

Guest:

  • Dr. Eric Lenze - psychiatry professor at Washington University School of Medicine