A steroid treatment, that is cheap and widely available throughout the world, could help save the lives of those infected with COVID-19. The drug, dexamethasone, is a low-dose steroid and could potentially be a major breakthrough in the fight against coronavirus, according to a study from Oxford University.

Dexamethasone is most commonly used as an anti-inflammatory medication to decrease swelling associated with tumors of the spine and brain. It is also used to treat or prevent allergic reactions and reduce swelling in the eyes.

During the study, led by a team at Oxford University, 2104 patients received dexamethasone 6mg once per day (either by mouth or by intravenous injection) for ten days. The results were compared to 4321 patients who were under usual care.

The results, released on Tuesday [June 16], concluded that the drug cut the risk of death for patients on ventilators from 40% to 28%. And in patients needing oxygen, it reduced the risk from 25% to 20%.

“Dexamethasone reduced deaths by one-third in ventilated patients and by one-fifth in other patients receiving oxygen. There was no benefit among those patients who did not require respiratory support,” reads the report. “Based on these results, 1 death would be prevented by treatment of around 8 ventilated patients or around 25 patients requiring oxygen alone.”

Chief Investigator for the trial, Professor Peter Horby 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.”

Professor Martin Landray, another Chief Investigator on the same team, said the results of the 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,” said Landray.

Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, from the UK Government praised the discovery as a “ground-breaking development in our fight against the disease”.

“This is tremendous news today from the Recovery trial showing that dexamethasone is the first drug to reduce mortality from COVID-19. It is particularly exciting as this is an inexpensive widely available medicine.

‘This is a ground-breaking development in our fight against the disease, and the speed at which researchers have progressed finding an effective treatment is truly remarkable. It shows the importance of doing high quality clinical trials and basing decisions on the results of those trials,” said Vallance.

Dexamethasone doesn’t seem to have an effect on patients who display milder symptoms, and those who do not suffer from respiratory issues.


Picture: Pixabay

Article written by

Nidha Narrandes

Nidha Narrandes is a food-obsessed travel addict with 21 years of journalism experience. Her motto - Travel. Eat. Repeat. She is happiest on a road to nowhere without a plan. A masterchef at home, she can't do without chilli - because chilli makes the world a tastier place.