A new study by the researchers of the University of California and Stanford University School of Medicine has found that some widely-used prescription antidepressants may reduce both severity and mortality of COVID-19, according to Medical News Today.

After conducting a retrospective cohort study of more than 83,580 people diagnosed with COVID-19, the researchers discovered that those who took selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) has a lower risk of death than those who did not take the depression drugs.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved SSRIs such as citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva), sertraline (Zoloft), fluvoxamine (Luvox), among others for the treatment of depression.

In August, one large study found that fluvoxamine is effective at reducing hospitalization for COVID-19 patients. In October, a Brazilian study found that fluvoxamine may reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 illness, especially for those who are at high risk.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University commented on the latest study findings, “I would call it very provocative. It is a large ecological study that builds on previous information suggesting that this class [SSRIs] may actually have a role in treating [COVID] infections.”

In the current study, the researchers found that people who took SSRIs had a relative reduction in mortality of 8% than those who did not take the depression drugs.

Interestingly, the reduction was greatest in people who took fluoxetine or fluvoxamine (26%). However, other SSRIs did not show a greater effect than fluoxetine or fluvoxamine.

Dr. Schaffner explained, “Familiarity, a certain comfort level, is a great advantage. Even though the vaccines have been used in millions of people, one of the first things a vaccine skeptic will say is they are brand new; they were created too rapidly. When we started using dexamethasone, no one objected to the drug we’d been using for years.”

However, he cautioned: “These studies have come out just as new antivirals have been produced. Is the effect of SSRIs sufficiently large to compete with these antiviral drugs? Or is the actual benefit going to be so small that it is unlikely to have major clinical benefit?”

These findings are promising, but the study researcher said we need “large, randomized clinical trials […] to clarify the effect of SSRIs generally, or more specifically, of fluoxetine and fluvoxamine, on the severity of COVID-19 outcomes.”

Dr. Schaffner warned, “The authors are meticulous in saying before we reach that conclusion, we need a large clinical trial or a series of clinical trials, depending on the stage of COVID-19 […] that we are trying to address.”

The story appeared on Medical News Today.