TUESDAY, June 16, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- The cheap and widely available steroid dexamethasone reduced the risk for death among seriously ill COVID-19 patients by up to a third, according to researchers in England.
The investigators compared more than 2,100 hospitalized patients who received the drug orally or intravenously to more than 4,300 hospitalized patients who received usual care. After 28 days, the drug reduced deaths by 35 percent in patients who were on ventilators and by 20 percent for those only requiring supplemental oxygen, but the drug did not appear to help patients with less serious illness, the Associated Press reported. The findings were released Tuesday and the researchers said they would soon publish the study.
"This is an extremely welcome result," study leader Peter Horby, M.B.B.S., of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, said in a statement, the AP reported. "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."
While the drug's benefits appear limited to patients with severe illness, "countless lives will be saved globally," Nick Cammack of Wellcome, a charity that supports science research, told the AP. "Dexamethasone must now be rolled out and accessed by thousands of critically ill patients around the world," said Cammack, who was not involved in the study. "It is highly affordable, easy to make, can be scaled up quickly, and only needs a small dosage."
However, the World Health Organization advises against the use of steroids in the early stages of COVID-19 because they can extend the time it takes patients to clear the virus.