Amid growing pandemic, scientists from Oxford University said that an inexpensive and affordable drug reduces mortality of patients with severe Covid-19.
We are talking about a steroid dexamethasone. If this fact is confirmed, it will be the first drug that showed a decrease in mortality in severely ill patients. Researchers estimate that if doctors used the drug to treat the most seriously ill patients with Covid-19 in the UK since the start of the pandemic, they could prevent up to 5,000 deaths.
In severe cases, the virus directly affects the cells lining the patient’s airways and lungs. But the infection can also trigger an overwhelming immune response, which is just as dangerous. Three-quarters of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 receive oxygen.
The drug reduces inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting tissues.
In a test led by a team from the University of Oxford, about 2,000 patients in the hospital received dexamethasone and their condition was compared with more than 4,000 patients who did not receive the drug.
For patients on mechanical ventilation, this reduced the risk of death from 40% to 28%. For patients requiring oxygen therapy, it reduces the risk of death from 25% to 20%.
There is no coronavirus vaccine yet, and the only medicine known to be effective in treating Covid-19 is broad-spectrum antiviral medication Remdesivir, which shortens the patient’s recovery time.
What is dexamethasone
Dexamethasone is a synthetic glucocorticosteroid with anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects, which penetrates the central nervous system. Due to these properties, it can be used in the treatment of patients with cerebral edema and inflammatory eye diseases. Dexamethasone in the form of pills and injection is on the list of vital and essential medicines. It was first received in 1957. It has been used since the early 1960s to treat various diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Approximately half of the Covid-19 patients requiring lung ventilation do not survive. Therefore, a 33% reduction in the risk of death is of great importance.
If a person is in intensive care, he or she is prescribed to take it intravenously, less severe patients take pills.
“Dexamethasone is the first drug to have shown improved survival with Covid-19,” Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases at the University of Oxford, said in a statement
Though Dr. Parnia had treated patients with steroids and seen improvement, “there had not been such a large trial comparing no steroids with steroids.”
Another positive point is that the drug is widespread and cheap, which can play a big role in poor countries.
Not all experts happily accepted the news about this medical breakthrough. Some doctors voice their skepticism. They, in particular, want to see more data.
Due to the global urgent need to find a cure or vaccine for coronavirus, the publication of any positive test results has accelerated, creating confusion as to whether the therapy has been proven to be effective.
Soon after a statement by British scientists, a South Korean healthcare official warned against the use of dexamethasone because of its possible side effects.
Dr. Kathryn Hibbert, director of the intensive care unit at Harvard Massachusetts Hospital, said the results are not very convincing.
“I really hope that this is true because it would be a huge step forward in helping our patients,” she said but noted that the data might turn out to be incorrect due to the rush.
“We need to see what the study looks like, given the negative reactions. I’m waiting to see the real data, to see if it is verified and published in a real scientific journal,” said Dr. Thomas McGinn, deputy chief physician of New York’s largest healthcare system.
Dr. Mark Wurfel, professor of medicine at the University of Washington, urged researchers to show the data before the official publication.
“This would help us determine whether it is appropriate to use this therapy for our patients,” he said.
Under ordinary conditions, to claim that a drug is effective in treating any disease, it takes more time and research to find out not only positive aspects but also its side effects and risks.