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Indigestion drug may ease mild-moderate Covid-19 symptoms

Friday June 5th 2020

A widely available drug used to ease indigestion could help to treat people with mild to moderate cases of Covid-19, it was claimed today.

A small case study of 10 people in the USA found that taking famotidine helped to ease their Covid-19 symptoms ease within 24 to 48 hours of taking the drug, which has led to calls for a clinical trial.

Writing in Gut, the researchers say improvement was evident across all symptom categories assessed, but respiratory symptoms, such as cough and shortness of breath, improved more rapidly than systemic symptoms, such as fatigue.

The severity of five main symptoms: cough; shortness of breath; fatigue; headache and loss of taste/smell as well as general unwellness, was measured using a version of a four-point scale normally applied to assess the severity of cancer symptoms (ECOG PS).

Seven of the patients tested positive for Covid-19, using a swab test, while two had antibodies to the infection. One patient was not tested but was diagnosed with the infection by a doctor.

The patients, six men and four women, aged between 23 and 71, were from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds and known risk factors for Covid-19 severity, including high blood pressure and obesity. None needed hospital treatment for the virus.

All of them started taking famotidine when they were feeling very poorly with the virus, having suffered symptoms from two to 26 days at that point.

Most took 80mg of famotidine, three times a day, with the average treatment period lasting 11 days, but ranging from five to 21 days.

All 10 patients said that symptoms quickly improved within 24-48 hours of starting famotidine and had mostly cleared up after 14 days.

The researchers say that while their initial findings are promising, they might have been affected by ‘the placebo effect,’ and/or hazy recall.

“Our case series suggests, but does not establish, a benefit from famotidine treatment in outpatients with Covid-19,” they write. “And it’s not clear how famotidine might work: if it might incapacitate the virus in some way or alter a person’s immune response to it.

“Clinically, we unreservedly share the opinion that well-designed and informative studies of efficacy are required to evaluate candidate medications for Covid-19 as for other diseases.”

A clinical trial, testing the combination of famotidine with hydroxychloroquine in patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19, is already under way.

Janowitz T, Gablenz E, Pattinson D et al. Famotidine use and quantitative symptom tracking for COVID-19 in non-hospitalised patients: a case series. Gut 5 June 2020; doi 10.1136/gutjnl-2020-321852

Tags: Flu & Viruses | Gastroenterology | North America | Pharmaceuticals

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