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Antidepressant shows promise for treating COVID symptoms, now patients can take part in at-home trial.

Early studies found COVID patients who took Fluvoxamine avoided hospitalization. Roughly 500 people are still needed for an expanded nationwide trial.

MINNEAPOLIS — The wait for a COVID-19 vaccine is shrinking by the day, but so is the wait for effective treatments. Within days of developing COVID-19 symptoms, you can now take part in a clinical trial that will deliver a promising drug to your door within 24 hours.

"The goal would be to prevent people from deteriorating and needing hospitalization," said Dr. David Boulware, an infectious disease physician-scientist at the University of Minnesota.

Though drugs like Remdesivir and new monoclonal antibodies have already been shown to be effective, Dr. Boulware says they're not widely accessible because they can't be taken at home because they are delivered through an IV.

Now, Dr. Boulware says patients have a new, more accessible option thanks to an old, widely available drug. For 25 years, a generic medication called Fluvoxamine has been used to treat OCD and anxiety, but two recent studies have shown that it appears to be effective at treating COVID symptoms.

"The action of how it's working (on COVID patients) is not as an antidepressant," Dr. Boulware said. "It just happens to be an off-target effect, where it inhibits inflammation." 

The Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis studied 152 COVID patients to see if Fluvoxamine would inhibit the kind of inflammation in the lungs that contributes to severe symptoms and death.

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According to the study, after 15 days, none of the patients who received the drug experienced serious clinical deterioration, but 8% of those who were given a placebo became seriously ill.

A California race track also conducted it's own, small-scale study of Fluvoxamine, finding about 12% of those who refused to take the drug ended up hospitalized. Of those who took Fluvoxamine, none were hospitalized. 

Kent Erdahl: "I know they're small studies, but that's pretty great news." 

Dr. Boulware: "Yeah, so both of these, basically 100% of the people didn't have to go to the hospital. I think the other impressive thing was that, of the people who took it, all of them had basically recovered by day 14 of the medicine and didn't have any long COVID symptoms or any on-going symptoms, versus the group that didn't take the medicine, 60% of the people still had ongoing symptoms at two weeks."

But despite all the good news, only about 500 volunteers have signed up on StopCOVIDtrial.com so far. That's about half the number needed to complete the trial.

Compare that to a nationwide study of Hydroxychloriquine, which Dr. Boulware helped lead last summer, which filled up fast after an enthusiastic endorsement from former President Trump, despite the actual science eventually showing no benefit for COVID patients.

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Erdahl: "Is it frustrating to see that you have a study, still, that is only about half full on something that does really seem promising?" 

Dr. Boulware: "Well, this definitely does seem promising, and with Hydroxychloroquine there was there was a lot of promotion and very little data. This actually does have some data and it has very little promotion because there's no one really promoting it. At this point we really want to promote participating in the clinical trial so that we can get the information and then if it's truly beneficial that will certainly be spread."

It's free to sign up for the trial online, but it is time sensitive. You need to sign up within seven days of experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, and they will send you the pills overnight. 

The most common side effect of the drug is nausea, and Dr. Boulware says the trial hasn't shown any impact on depression or anxiety because the trial relies on a lower than normal dose of Fluvoxamine, and it's only a two week supply.

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