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Peer-reviewed study of more than 10,000 PCR results

Aspirin may protect against COVID-19, Israeli research finds

People who take small doses are 29% less likely than others to test positive, researchers say; those who do get COVID recover faster, and with reduced aftereffects

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

A bottle of aspirin (Godruma via iStock by Getty Images)
A bottle of aspirin (Godruma via iStock by Getty Images)

Aspirin, one of the oldest and most widely used drugs, is preventing COVID-19 infections, Israeli scientists have claimed in “exciting” findings.

In the peer-reviewed research, they found that in a sample of Israeli PCR tests, patients who take small doses of aspirin were 29 percent less likely to test positive. They cross-referenced 10,477 results with medical records covering what preventive drugs patients take.

“We were really excited to see a big reduction in the proportion of people testing positive, and this gives a promising indication that aspirin, such a well-known and inexpensive drug, may be helpful in fighting the pandemic,” Milana Frenkel-Morgenstern of Bar-Ilan University told The Times of Israel.

As well as concluding that people who take aspirin, which was developed more than 120 years ago, are less likely to be diagnosed with the virus, Frenkel-Morgenstern hit on another “important” finding: Aspirin users who are diagnosed with COVID-19 are likely to have a shorter illness — by about two days — and be less likely to suffer from aftereffects of the coronavirus, she reported.

Hospital team members move patients to the new coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on November 16, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“This finding with regard to ‘long COVID,’ a phenomenon that is a real concern, is very important,” said Frenkel-Morgenstern, whose past research has been ahead of the curve. Her study in June, in which she concluded that vitamin D gave people a major boost in fighting COVID-19, was followed by similar claims from many other researchers.

The aspirin study focused on people who take “baby” 75 milligram doses of the drug for primary prevention of cardiovascular diseases, but don’t already have such diseases. Results were adjusted to account for age and co-morbidities.

Milana Frenkel-Morgenstern, head of Bar Ilan University’s Lab for the BioComputing of Complex Diseases (courtesy of Bar Ilan University)

The research was conducted by Bar-Ilan, Leumit Health Services, and Barzilai Medical Center, and its findings have been published in the peer-reviewed FEBS journal. Barzilai’s Prof. Eli Magen, the lead author, said: “This observation of the possible beneficial effect of low doses of aspirin on COVID-19 infection is preliminary but seems very promising.”

Frenkel-Morgenstern said that the mechanism through which aspirin apparently reduces infection risk is unknown, but she believes that it shortens the length of the disease due to its anti-inflammatory qualities.

Dr. Eugene Merzon, the main Leumit scholar who worked on the study, said that despite the limitations of an observational study, as opposed to a full clinical study, the infection rates can be viewed as providing an indication that aspirin can be potentially important in fighting the pandemic. And he said that the separate calculations on length of illness seem to back up the hypothesis.

“The fact we saw that it’s not just the likelihood of infection but also disease duration points to the possibility of benefits, in biological terms, of taking aspirin,” he said.

Frenkel-Morgenstern said that this is early research, which she hopes will lead to a further study, and stressed that she is not recommending that people self-prescribe aspirin.

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