Heartburn drug famotidine may reduce symptoms of non-hospitalised COVID-19 patients, suggests case series

A new drug, famotidine, available over-the-counter for relieving heartburn, has shown promising results in treating the symptoms of COVID-19

Myupchar June 05, 2020 20:40:40 IST
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Heartburn drug famotidine may reduce symptoms of non-hospitalised COVID-19 patients, suggests case series

COVID-19 is a new disease with no known cure yet. In the absence of a specific treatment, doctors have been repurposing various drugs such as the antimalarial drug (hydroxychloroquine), antiparasitic drug (Ivermectin), a rheumatoid arthritis drug (tocilizumab) and many others to treat COVID-19 patients. Most of them are under clinical trials and are being used on an emergency basis. Meanwhile, a new drug, famotidine, available over-the-counter for relieving heartburn, has shown promising results in treating the symptoms of COVID-19.

The drug is currently under trial and is not recommended for use unless prescribed by a medical professional.

Heartburn drug famotidine may reduce symptoms of nonhospitalised COVID19 patients suggests case series

Representational Image. Image courtesy: Unsplash@christine-sandu

Case series on the heartburn drug

A case series was published in the journal Gut, a section of the British Medical Journal, on 4 June, 2020. It was based on the effect of famotidine, a heartburn drug, on 10 people who were affected with COVID-19 infection but were not admitted to the hospital. Out of these patients, eight patients were from New York State, one from New Jersey and one from Sweden. These patients self-medicated themselves with 80 mg of famotidine, thrice daily for a median of 11 days (range was 5 to 21 days).

The patients were assessed on the basis of a score based questionnaire and telephonic interviews. They were evaluated on the basis of the severity of these six symptoms: cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches, anosmia (loss of smell) and feeling of not being well.

Result of the case series

The results showed that out of the 10 patients 7 patients did not report any adverse effects of the medicine. The other 3 patients complained of mild dizziness, gastric symptoms and temporary forgetfulness.

The participants stated that they started feeling better 24-48 hours after taking famotidine. The results showed that after taking famotidine, the respiratory symptoms started getting better at a rapid rate and most of these patients felt normal after day 14.

Initial attention to the drug

Dr Michael Callahan, an infectious disease expert, was the first one to draw attention to the drug. He was working in Nanjing, China, on an avian flu project when the COVID-19 epidemic exploded in Wuhan city of China. He went on to help his Chinese colleagues in that crucial time. He found that the virus was attacking the elderly and people with comorbidities at a much faster rate. However, they found that many of the survivors were poor and old. On reviewing the records of these 6,212 COVID-19 patients, the doctors noticed that most of these survivors had been suffering from chronic heartburn and were continuously taking famotidine, a cheaper drug as compared to expensive drug omeprazole.

Large scale trial on famotidine

According to Dr Kevin Tracey, the research head of the famotidine trial at Northwell Health, New York City, they have aimed at enrolling around 1,200 patients in their trial. As of 25 April 2020, 187 COVID-19 patients in critical status, including many on ventilators, have been enrolled in the trial. They further stated they would not show any early enthusiasm until the trial’s preliminary results show some positive sign as people might begin to misuse the drug, which could lead to many complications.

For more information, read our article on Heartburn.

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