One-third of coronavirus patients who are seriously ill and suffering from severe respiratory complications can be saved with a common steroid treatment.
Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid, which is a class of steroid hormone that works as an anti-inflammatory.
A study called the RECOVERY trial tested this cheap and readily available drug on COVID-19 patients.
They found that dexamethasone saved one-third of patients who were on ventilators and reduced deaths by a fifth for patients receiving oxygen.
Researchers say, due to its low cost, it could also benefit poorer countries.
They believe it can be used right away to save many lives of seriously ill patients with COVID-19 worldwide.
Professor Martin Landray, the study’s lead researcher, said:
“Since the appearance of COVID-19 six months ago, the search has been on for treatments that can improve survival, particularly in the sickest patients.
These preliminary results from the RECOVERY trial are very clear – dexamethasone reduces the risk of death among patients with severe respiratory complications.
COVID-19 is a global disease – it is fantastic that the first treatment demonstrated to reduce mortality is one that is instantly available and affordable worldwide.”
In this trial, 2,104 patients received a daily dosage of 6 mg of dexamethasone for ten days.
The highest death rate was amongst those patients on ventilators, intermediate for those needing oxygen, and lowest for those patients who didn’t need any respiratory support.
Dexamethasone cut the risk of death in ventilated patients from 40 percent to 28 percent compared with those who were not on dexamethasone.
It also reduced the risk of death from 25 percent to 20 percent in other patients who were on oxygen.
However, dexamethasone treatment didn’t benefit those patients who didn’t need respiratory interventions, suggesting it helps prevent death only in seriously ill patients.
Professor Peter Horby, a principal investigator for this trial, said:
“Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in COVID-19.
This is an extremely welcome result.
The survival benefit is clear and large in those patients who are sick enough to require oxygen treatment, so dexamethasone should now become standard of care in these patients.
Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide.”
Dexamethasone, due its anti-inflammatory effects, is usually prescribed for conditions such as patients with asthma, skin problems, and arthritis.
It is probable that it prevents the immune system from overreacting, which is known as cytokine storm.
Cytokine storm is seen in patients with respiratory diseases, flu, and COVID-19.
At the moment, US doctors suggest caution over the ‘breakthrough’ claims on dexamethasone and want to see the complete published results and understand potential side-effects in order to make a decision.
About the author
Mina Dean is a Nutritionist and Food Scientist. She holds a BSc in Human Nutrition and an MSc in Food Science.
The results come from the RECOVERY (Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY) trial, which is not published yet.