Study finds common drug reduces death in severe COVID-19 cases

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Dexamethasone, a cheap and widely available drug, could help reduce death by up to one third in hospitalized patients with severe respiratory complications of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), according to new study results published Tuesday.

The low-dose steroid treatment is part of the Randomized Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY) Trial, the largest study testing existing drugs and treatments to see if they also work for the coronavirus. Over 11,500 patients have been enrolled from over 175 NHS hospitals in the United Kingdom.

A total of 2,104 patients were randomized to receive dexamethasone 6 milligrams once per day for ten days and were compared with 4,321 patients randomized to usual care alone. Among the patients who received usual care alone, 28-day mortality was highest in those who required ventilation (41 percent), intermediate in those patients who required oxygen only (25 percent), and lowest among those who did not require any respiratory intervention (13 percent).

Dexamethasone, which is already used to reduce inflammation in a range of other conditions, including arthritis, asthma, and some skin conditions, 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, the investigators said.

Based on these results, one death would be prevented by treatment of around eight ventilated patients or around 25 patients requiring oxygen alone. The researchers are now working to publish the full details as soon as possible.  

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