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Dexamethasone Emerges As First COVID-19 Drug: All you need to know

Dexamethasone is a generic steroid widely used in other diseases to reduce inflammation. The drug helps stop some of the damage that can happen when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive as it tries to fight off COVID-19

In a major breakthrough in Covid-19 treatment, scientists in UK have claimed that the generic steroid drug dexamethasone reduced deaths by up to one third in severely ill hospitalised patients. The results are a part of UK-based RECOVERY trial, one of the world’s largest randomised trial of drugs to treat COVID-19 patients.

This is the same study that earlier this month showed the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine was not working against the coronavirus.

In the trial, led by a team from Oxford University, 2,104 patients were given dexamethasone and were compared with 4,321 patients who did not receive the drug. The drug is shown to cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators and for those on oxygen, it cuts deaths by a fifth.

“This is the only drug so far that has been shown to reduce mortality – and it reduces it significantly. It’s a major breakthrough,” BBC quoted chief investigator Prof Peter Horby as saying.

“Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide,” one study leader, Peter Horby of the University of Oxford, said.

There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for Covid-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus which has killed more than 431,000 globally.

All you need to know of Covid-19 drug dexamethasone

👉 What is dexamethasone?

Dexamethasone is a generic steroid widely used in other diseases to reduce inflammation. The drug helps stop some of the damage that can happen when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive as it tries to fight off coronavirus.

The steroid medicine has been available as a generic for decades. It is used to treat a range of diseases including rheumatism, asthma, allergies and even to help cancer patients better handle the nausea triggered by chemotherapy.

Steroid drugs reduce inflammation, which sometimes develops in Covid-19 patients as the immune system overreacts to fight the infection. This overreaction can prove fatal, so doctors have been testing steroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs in such patients.

👉 What have the dexamethasone trial results shown?

The results have shown that giving low doses of dexamethasone to patients reduced death rates by around a third among those with the most severe cases of infection.

The data further showed for patients on ventilators, it cut the risk of death from 40 per cent to 28 per cent. For patients needing oxygen, it cut the risk of death from 25 per cent to 20 per cent.

Researchers estimate that the drug will prevent one death for every eight patients treated while on breathing machines and one for every 25 patients on extra oxygen alone, AP reported.

“This is a result that shows that if patients who have Covid-19 and are on ventilators or are on oxygen are given dexamethasone, it will save lives, and it will do so at a remarkably low cost,” Reuters quoted Martin Landray, an Oxford University professor, who is co-leading the trial, as saying.

However, dexamethasone does not appear to help people with milder symptoms of coronavirus – those who don’t need help with their breathing.

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