Major breakthrough: Widely-used $10 steroid ‘reduces Covid-19 deaths’

Jun 17, 2020
Dexamethasone is commonly used to relieve inflammation. Source: Getty.

A widely-used steroid called dexamethasone could be used to treat Covid-19 patients after a trial found that the drug reduced deaths by as much as 35 per cent in critically-ill coronavirus patients. It is the first time a drug has been shown to save lives amid the ongoing global health crisis.

The Oxford university research has been heralded as a “major breakthrough” after the results, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, were unveiled in a media release on Tuesday. It comes as the global death toll surpasses 435,000, with Covid-19 having now killed more Americans than World War One.

The trial was conducted across 175 NHS hospitals in the UK and found that dexamethasone reduced deaths by one-third in ventilated patients and by one fifth in other patients receiving oxygen only. There was no benefit among those patients who did not require respiratory support. Based on these results, 1 death would be prevented by treatment of around 8 ventilated patients or around 25 patients requiring oxygen alone.

“Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in COVID-19,” Professor Peter Horby, one of the Chief Investigators for the trial, said. “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 is commonly used to relieve inflammation and is typically prescribed to patients suffering with arthritis, severe allergies, asthma and internal disorders. The drug costs just $10 and can be purchased in a packet of 30 tablets from Chemist Warehouse.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the efforts as the “first successful clinical trial in the world”. The World Health Organization (WHO) also welcomed the preliminary results.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus 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.”

However other medical professionals urged people to exercise caution, after previous studies published in renowned medical journals had to be retracted. Surgeon Atul Gawande wrote on Twitter: “It will be great news if dexamethasone, a cheap steroid, really does cut deaths by 1/3 in ventilated patients with COVID19, but after all the retractions and walk backs, it is unacceptable to tout study results by press release without releasing the paper.”

While others disagreed and argued that the researchers were right to release the findings, ahead of the full paper. Dr Gaetan Burgio, from the Australian National University, said: “While we are awaiting the full report, the preliminary results indicate a significant reduction in mortality for patients predominantly in ICU. This is the first report demonstrating that a drug can significantly increase survival for critically ill COVID-19 patients. Overall this is an important and significant result that in my view is likely to save lives. Given these results and pending confirmation it wouldn’t be surprising to me if Dexamethasone treatment will be quickly adopted as a standard of care for severe COVID-19 patients hospitalized in ICU.”

Professor Brian Oliver, from the University of Technology Sydney, said: “This is the first study that I have seen in which I am genuinely excited by the outcomes for patients with severe COIVD-19.”

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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