A low-cost steroid has been shown to reduce deaths among critically ill patients
A commonly used steroid called dexamethasone can reduce deaths by a third among critically ill patients with COVID-19, according to an early clinical trial conducted at the University of Oxford.
Researchers administered the drug to just over 2,100 patients, and then compared their results with those of just over 4,300 patients who received regular treatment for the virus.
While patients with milder cases of the disease didn’t appear to see any benefit from taking the drug, there was a one-third reduction in deaths among those on ventilators after 28 days, and deaths among those on oxygen were cut by one-fifth.
Dexamethasone is a low-cost corticosteroid used to reduce inflammation in conditions such as inflammatory disorders, immune system problems, and some types of cancers. It is also be prescribed to treat severe allergic reactions, asthma, and multiple sclerosis flare-ups.
“This is very welcome news for those patients with severe illness,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), during a virtual press briefing in Geneva.
“This drug should only be used under close clinical supervision. We need more therapeutics that can be used to tackle the virus, including those with milder symptoms.”
Researchers believe the drug is effective at countering the disease because it reduces the dangerous reaction that occurs in the bodies of critically ill patients when their own immune system attacks organs and cells in an attempt to fight off the infection.
Dr. Michael Ryan, the executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, urged caution in prescribing the drug as trials on its use continue.
“Steroids, particularly powerful steroids, can be associated with viral replication. In other words, they can actually facilitate the division and replication of viruses in human bodies,” he said during the virtual briefing. “It’s exceptionally important in this case that this drug is reserved for use in severely ill and critical patients.”