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Certain antidepressants may make COVID-19 cases less severe, study finds

Experts say the medications may reduce the risk of consumers ending up in the hospital

Woman holding pills in hand
Photo (c) d3sign - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of California San Francisco explored one factor that may impact the severity of consumers’ COVID-19 cases. Their work showed that COVID-19 patients taking antidepressants that are classified as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be less likely to be hospitalized from the virus. 

“We can’t tell if the drugs are causing these effects, but the statistical analysis is showing significant association,” said researcher Marina Sirota, Ph.D. “There’s power in the numbers.” 

Antidepressants may benefit long-term health

For the study, the researchers analyzed electronic health records from more than 83,000 adults who were diagnosed with COVID-19 and enrolled in the Cerner Real World COVID-19 database; of that group, over 3,400 patients were taking SSRIs. The team then compared the health outcomes of patients taking antidepressants versus those not taking medication. 

The researchers learned that participants who were taking SSRI antidepressants had better COVID-19 health outcomes than participants not taking these drugs; the mortality risk was nearly 10% lower for those taking any type of SSRI. 

Fluoxetine -- which is sold under the brand name Prozac -- was found to have the best coronavirus-related outcomes. Participants who took it had a nearly 30% lower risk of death from COVID-19. Similarly, taking fluvoxamine was linked with a more than 25% lower risk of coronavirus-related death. 

While more work needs to be done to determine if it would be beneficial to prescribe antidepressants as a COVID-19 treatment, the researchers explained that these findings represent an important first step.

“The results are encouraging,” said Dr. Tomiko Oskotsky. “It’s important to find as many options as possible for treating any condition. A particular drug or treatment may not work well or be tolerated by everyone. Data from electronic medical records allow us to look quickly into existing drugs that could be repurposed for treating COVID-19 or other conditions.” 

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