Corticosteroid Dexamethasone could be a lifeline for COVID-19 patients

The initial Dexamethasone clinical trial outcomes in the UK have demonstrated that the generic corticosteroid medication could present a lifeline for COVID-19 patients who have developed life-threatening respiratory complications.

Reducing mortality by one third

Reducing mortality rates of patients on mechanical ventilation by one third and for patients requiring supplementary oxygen treatment by one fifth, Dexamethasone’s extremely encouraging preliminary test results were welcomed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The positive results were evident in seriously ill patients but, notably, they were not seen in patients with the milder form of COVID-19.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General said:

“This is the first treatment to be shown to reduce mortality in patients with COVID-19 requiring oxygen or ventilator support.”
“This is great news and I congratulate the Government of the UK, the University of Oxford, and the many hospitals and patients in the UK who have contributed to this lifesaving scientific breakthrough.”

Dexamethasone is an affordable and widely accessible steroid invented in 1957 and approved for medical use by WHO in 1961 for reducing the immune response induced by certain inflammatory, autoimmune, traumatic, allergic and oedema associated conditions.

Steroids can suppress the immune system

But the reflection of these paradigm-changing preliminary trial results also raised serious concerns by researchers which were shared with the WHO. Scientists are looking forward to detailed and complete data analysis coordinated and updated by the WHO, which is going to bring overall clarity reflecting how and when the Dexamethasone should be administered for COVID-19 patients.

In this regard, Thomas McGinn, M.D., deputy physician-in-chief at Northwell Health, revealed to Reuters that:

“One well-known problem with steroids is that they can suppress the immune system, which could complicate the recovery process for any virus.”

McGinn added that he would not support the usage of dexamethasone to manage COVID-19 until having the complete UK test data published in a peer-reviewed study — a sentiment shared by doctors at the University of Washington and Massachusetts General Hospital.

The UK trial of dexamethasone, called Recovery, enrolled more than 11,500 patients at 175 NHS hospitals. The results reaffirm the crucial importance of large randomized control trials that can deliver actionable evidence. WHO stated that it is focusing on further research into the use of steroids as a priority and will continue to work with all it’s partners to further develop lifesaving therapeutics and vaccines to tackle COVID-19.


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