There appears to be a major breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic as dexamethasone, a cheap and widely available low-dose steroid drug, has shown efficacy for preventing critically ill COVID-19 patients from dying, according to a BBC report.

The drug is part of the world’s biggest existing medicine under clinical trial for the treatment and possible cure for the deadly viral disease.

The research, led by a team from Oxford University scientists, has shown that dexamethasone cuts the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators, while for those on oxygen, it cuts death by a fifth.

The Chief Investigator of the Research, Prof Peter Horby said: “Had the drug been used to treat patients in the UK from the start of the pandemic, up to 5,000 lives could have been saved. This could be of huge benefit in poorer countries with high numbers of COVID-19 patients.”

TRACKING COVID 19

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said about 19 out of 20 patients with COVID-19 recover without being admitted to hospital. Of those who are admitted, most also recover, but some may need oxygen or mechanical ventilation. These are the high-risk patients whom dexamethasone appears to help.

Horby said the drug was already being used to reduce inflammation in a range of other conditions, adding that it appears that it helps stop some of the damages that can happen when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive as it tries to fight off COVID-19. “The body’s over-reaction is called cytokine storm and it can be deadly.

“2,000 hospital patients were given dexamethasone and were compared with more than 4,000 who did not receive the drug.

“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.

“This is the only drug so far that has been shown to reduce mortality – and it reduces it significantly. It’s a major breakthrough,” he added.

Lead Researcher, Prof Martin Landray, said the findings suggest that for every eight patients treated on ventilators, you could save one life.

“For those patients treated with oxygen, you save one life for approximately every 20-25 treated with the drug.

“There is a clear, clear benefit. The treatment is up to 10 days of dexamethasone and it costs about £5 per patient. So essentially it costs £35 to save a life. This is a drug that is globally available.”

Landray said, when appropriate, hospital patients should now be given it without delay, but people should not go out and buy it to take at home.

He added that dexamethasone does not appear to help people with milder symptoms of the disease.

The Recovery Trial has been running since March. It included the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine which has subsequently been ditched amid concern that it increases fatalities and heart problems.

Another drug called remdesivir, an antiviral treatment that appears to shorten recovery time for people with coronavirus, is already being made available in UK’s National Health System (NHS).

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