A COMMON antidepressant could help to ease the symptoms of coronavirus, scientists say.
Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in the US are examining the effectiveness of fluvoxamine against Covid-19.
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Fluvoxamine belongs to a group of medicines called SSRI antidepressants and it is normally prescribed for either the treatment of depression or for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
However, the researchers believe the drug may help to prevent "cytokine storms" – which is where the immune system goes into overdrive and floods the body with immune cell mediators called cytokines in response to Covid-19.
This frenzied immune response can lead to life-threatening organ failure and has been a major concern in patients with severe coronavirus.
The researchers determined that fluvoxamine might be a potential coronavirus treatment – after find the drug had reduced the production of cytokines in patients with sepsis.
If proven effective, this treatment would be a safe and affordable option for fighting the pandemic
Professor Alban Gaultier, a researcher from the University of Virginia, told News Medical: "I am excited to see the results from this clinical trial.
"If proven effective in decreasing the symptoms of Covid-19, this treatment would be a safe and affordable option for fighting the pandemic. "Further, this approach could also be applied to other inflammatory conditions driven by cytokine storms, such as sepsis."
A team from Washington University, lead by Professor Eric J. Lenze, plan to test the effects of fluvoxamine on 152 patients with Covid-19 in Illinois and Missouri.
The patients will receive either fluvoxamine or a placebo while quarantined at home.
They will have to report their oxygen levels and other vital signs to the research team each day, either through phone calls or online – using thermometers, fingertip oxygen sensors and automatic blood pressure monitors that have been provided.
The researchers say that even if the drug proves ineffective against Covid-19, trial participants will benefit from the close supervision by doctors, who will help them determine if they need additional treatment.
"Using a psychiatric drug to treat COVID-19 may sound counterintuitive, but it's no more counterintuitive than using a malaria drug," Prof Lenze said.
"This drug has been around for decades, so we know how to use it safely. If effective, it could be an ideal drug to repurpose for outpatients with Covid."
Fluvoxamine is approved for clinical use here in the UK and is often prescribed to treat depression or OCD.
It works by regulating the level of a certain chemical, called serotonin, in your brain.
The drug can trigger some side effects in patients including nausea, headaches, a dry mouth, constipation and changes in appetite.
Scientists have been scrambling to find drugs to thwart the pandemic – with researchers have been turning to current drugs to help in the fight against Covid-19.
Experts say that flu, anti-malaria, arthritis and HIV drugs have all shown "promise" in treating the new illness.
Other potential treatments
In particular, there are high hopes that the drug remdesivir, which was initially a potential treatment for Ebola, may help coronavirus patients to recover.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) have dubbed it "the most promising" treatment for Covid-19 among all the other medicines being studied in trials.
Similarly, the US government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, said data from one clinical trial “shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery”.
Meanwhile, England's Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Officer, Prof Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance branded the antiviral drug "encouraging" and "promising", adding more research is now needed.
Chinese scientists have also said drugs lopinavir/ritonavir, which are sold under the names Kaletra and Aluvia, have shown promise in combatting Covid-19 as it can bind to the outside of the virus.
They are normally given to people with HIV to prevent it developing into AIDS.
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