Antidepressants and COVID-19: What’s the Link?


Fluvoxamine is an antidepressant mainly used in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but also in depression and anxiety disorders. Yet, a new small-scale clinical study found that it might have an unexpected use: as a Covid-19 treatment.

Why did researchers think to try this antidepressant as a Covid-19 treatment in the first place though? It’s because previous research showed that fluvoxamine is good at reducing the production of cytokines (“cyto-what now?”).

Cytokines are proteins which fulfill a lot of different functions in your body. Among others, they have a pro-inflammatory role, which means that they drive up inflammation in the body. But here is also where they can become problematic.

Cytokines can sometimes throw a hissy fit, otherwise known as a “cytokine storm”. Basically, too many cytokines are released at once, which leads to increased inflammation and can cause multiple organ failure and ultimately death.

And these cytokine storms are exactly what is believed to be involved in severe cases of Covid-19, so it’s logical to assume that, if a drug could lower the level of cytokines, the severity of the disease would also decrease.

So does it work? It appears so. Out of 152 adults infected with the virus, none of those who received fluvoxamine ended up in a critical state, while 6 of those who received placebo deteriorated. But…

Does that mean that fluvoxamine is an effective treatment against Covid-19? No, definitely not. For one, even though the results were statistically significant, the sample size is way too small to draw such a big conclusion. “So then what’s the point? “, you might ask.

This study lays the foundation for a larger study. Without it, it would’ve been much harder to argue that all the resources necessary for a large-scale clinical study needed to be poured into such an unexpected treatment. Also, it gives us hope that we can understand and manage this disease better.

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