Taking a Type 2 diabetes drug while you have coronavirus reduces chances of getting long COVID by 40%, a new study has suggested.

Metformin is a cheap drug used to control blood sugar in patients with Type 2 diabetes.

Scientists in the US have found that participants who took a two-week course within three days of a positive test result were less likely to still have coronavirus symptoms 10 months later.

The trial, published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, was carried out on 1,126 overweight or obese people over the age of 30 between December 2020 and January 2022.

It showed that only 6.3% of participants given the drug reported a long COVID diagnosis, compared with 10.4% of those who took a placebo – 40% fewer.

It is the first peer-reviewed phase three trial showing that taking medication while infected could help prevent long COVID.

It supports previous studies that show metformin stops the virus from reproducing in lab conditions and reduces the chances of overweight or obese people being hospitalised or dying from COVID.

There are currently an estimated two million people in the UK with long COVID, which means they still reported symptoms after four weeks.

There is no known cure, although a recent study by Israeli researchers suggested that most people with lingering symptoms find they are gone within a year.

‘Urgent’ need to find long COVID treatments

Dr Carolyn Bramante, the US study’s author of the University of Minnesota Medical School, described the condition as a “significant public health emergency”.

“It may have lasting physical health, mental health and economic impacts, especially in socioeconomically marginalised groups,” she said.

“There is an urgent need to find potential treatments and ways to prevent this disease.

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“Our study showed that metformin … substantially reduces the risk of being diagnosed with long COVID if taken when first infected with the coronavirus.”

She stressed that it does not show the drug would help people already suffering with long COVID.

Further studies on a wider group are yet to take place.