Authors: Zimering MB, Razzaki T, Tsang T, Shin JJ

PMID: 33117497 PMCID: PMC7590925


Advanced age and medical co-morbidity are strong predictors of mortality in COVID-19 infection. Yet few studies (to date) have specifically addressed risk factors associated with COVID-19 mortality in a high-risk subgroup of older US adults having one or more chronic diseases. Our hypothesis is that medications having ‘off-target’ anti-inflammatory effects may play a role in modulating the immune response in COVID-19 infection. We analyzed baseline risk factors associated with respiratory failure or death in 55 older adult US military veterans hospitalized for COVID-19 infection during (March-June 2020) the peak of the pandemic in New Jersey. Fifty-three percent (29/55) of patients experienced respiratory failure and thirty-one percent (17/55) died. In adjusted logistic regression analysis, baseline neutrophil to lymphocyte ratio (NLR) (P=0.0035) and body mass index (P=0.03) were significant predictors of the risk for respiratory failure. Age (P=0.05) and non-use (vs. use) of psychotropic medications having serotonin 2A receptor antagonist properties (odds ratio 5.06; 95% confidence intervals 1.18-21.7; P= 0.029) was each a significant predictor of an increased risk of death. There was a significant interaction effect of age and non-use (vs.. use) of psychotropic serotonin 2A receptor antagonist medications on the odds ratio (OR) for death (P=0.011). In selected, ventilator-dependent COVID-19 pneumonia patients treated with psychotropic serotonin 2A receptor antagonist medications to control agitation and ICU delirium, there was an apparent positive association between medication use and significant rise in the absolute lymphocyte count and decrease in the neutrophil: lymphocyte ratio. Taken together, these data are the first to suggest that certain psychotropic medications used in the treatment of chronic psychiatric illness and/or for acute delirium are inversely associated with mortality in severe COVID-19 infection by unknown mechanism which may involve (in part) immunomodulatory effects.

Keywords: COVID-19, SARS-CoV2, Serotonin 2A Receptor

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