How Does This Known Steroid Help Fight COVID-19?

by Kroger Health Staff

Last Updated: July 24, 2020

One of the world’s largest randomized, controlled studies on a coronavirus treatment was recently completed. Although further review is underway, initial findings are very promising. The drug analyzed, dexamethasone, was shown to decrease the mortality rate in COVID-19 patients by as much as one-third in the most critical cases. Below is some background on this steroid, the study findings, and next steps.

Dexamethasone is a steroid that has been used since the 1960s to reduce inflammation in a variety of conditions, including certain cancers. It is a medical staple found on pharmacy shelves worldwide. The government of the United Kingdom, through its National Health Service, is currently sponsoring a clinical trial called the Randomized Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY). In this study, a number of proposed therapies for COVID-19 are being studied, including dexamethasone. A preliminary analysis of the dexamethasone arm of RECOVERY, including 6,425 participants, was performed. One-third of the participants were given the dexamethasone treatment at a dose of 6mg daily for up to ten days in addition to usual care and two-thirds served as a control group, continuing the normal course of treatment without dexamethasone.

Study Findings
The initial findings were significant. Dexamethasone was found to reduce the death rate among patients who were critically ill with COVID-19. For patients requiring ventilation, treatment was shown to reduce mortality by one-third. For patients requiring supplemental oxygen but no ventilator, mortality was reduced by one-fifth. The observed benefits of dexamethasone were limited to patients seriously ill with COVID-19 and not seen with patients experiencing milder disease. The magnitude of improvement is more significant than any other treatment studied so far. By comparison, the antiviral drug remdesivir is the only other treatment shown to benefit people with COVID-19 in a large, randomized, controlled clinical trial. Remdesivir appeared to reduce a patient’s time in the hospital but did not have a statistically significant impact on mortality rate.

Next Steps
Following the release of the preliminary findings, the UK government announced it is authorizing dexamethasone for COVID-19 patients who require oxygen, including those on ventilators. A few weeks later, a section covering Dexamethasone in Patients with COVID-19 was added to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines.

Disclaimer: The information in this story is accurate as of its publication. However, the situation surrounding COVID-19 is ever-evolving. We are working to keep our stories up-to-date as changes occur, but we also encourage everyone to check news and recommendations from the CDC, WHO, and their local authorities.