Old Drug May Help Critically Ill COVID-19 Patients

A steroid used to fight inflammation since the 1960s may help people who are hospitalized with COVID-19. The RECOVERY trial is massive. With more than 11,500 patients in 175 hospitals in the U.K., researchers are working to find the best possible treatments for people with COVID-19. In the study, more than 4,300 patients are receiving care without any of the experimental drugs. A different group of 2,100 received dexamethasone. The researchers saw a one-third reduction in deaths of ventilated patients, and a one-fifth reduction in deaths of people on oxygen.

These preliminary results from the RECOVERY trial are very clear — dexamethasone reduces the risk of death among patients with severe respiratory complications,” Dr. Martin Landray of Univ. of Oxford, and one of the chief investigators. “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.”

These are very early results and need to be peer-reviewed. However, this could be huge. Of course, there are drawbacks, steroids, like dexamethasone, can cause glucose spikes. And, they can heighten the risk of a person getting another infection. The RECOVERY study is huge. Another drug may be found that is better, but for severely ill patients, it may be the best option.

So far, in the RECOVERY study, dexamethasone has had the best results. Dr. Peter Horby, the co-lead investigator, said it was “the only drug that’s so far shown to reduce mortality — and it reduces it significantly.”  

The drug is cheap and widely available around the world, making it an attractive option. Half of the people suffering from COVID-19 who need a ventilator die. Reducing the number by a third would be a huge step forward. The drug has long been approved for conditions like asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and more.

The drug does not appear to help people with more mild cases of COVID-19. If a person is well enough to breathe on their own, at home, the drug will not speed their recovery or alleviate symptoms. On the one hand, that’s bad news for people with milder cases. But, on the other, it’s good news because hospitals won’t face shortages and will be able to obtain the drug quickly for anyone who needs it. We need to wait to hear more results, but we are thrilled to hear that extensive studies are already finding promising results.

Banner image: Oxford Univ.

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