There’s new hope for critically ill hospitalized patients with COVID-19.  A commonly used drug has shown to improve survival rates by one third.  That’s according to a press release from a team of researchers in England. 

This clinical trial is getting a lot of attention in the medical field because the preliminary findings sound really encouraging.  Now the drug in this study is a steroid called dexamethasone.  And it was adminstered to just over 2,100 patients for 10 days.  The dose was 6 miligrams and it was given either orally or by intravenous injection.  And what the findings showed, was that the patients on mechanical ventilators were 35 percent less likely to die than those who only received the usual care for COVID-19.  And, for the patients who were needing supplemental oxygen, they were 20 percent less likely to die when compared to those who were not given dexamethasone.

Why does it work and how safe is it? 

Dexamethasone has been around for decades.  It was approved here in the US back in the 1950s.  It’s an inexpensive steroid that is prescribed for many conditions – like arthritis, severe allergies, skin conditions, eye infections, and autoimmune disorders.  And what it does, is it works on the immune system and lowers inflammation.  So it makes sense that an anti-inflammatory drug could help fight a disease that is known to trigger too much inflammation.  Now as for side effects, none were mentioned but we don’t yet have the full data from this study.  However, dexamethasone is known to cause side effects like irregular heartbeat, aggression, anxiety, headaches, depression, blurred vision and weight gain.

Some health experts have said that we need to be cautious since the research has not been peer-reviewed.  Should we be taking this news with a grain of salt as they say?

Typically researchers will give in-depth detail regarding their study.  And they’ll have peers review it before it gets published.  But that takes a lot of time.  And there’s a lot of pressure right now on the medical community to find a cure.  So yes, that does mean some information might be shared that doesn’t pan out in larger studies.  Like what we saw with the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine.  But even though we have limited data regarding the steroid study, I’m going to be cautiously optimistic.  And hope that in time, Dexamethasone will prove that it can cut deaths by up to 1/3 of ventilated patients.

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