Researchers identify dexamethasone as first drug proven to reduce COVID-19 deaths

Researchers identify dexamethasone as first drug proven to reduce COVID-19 deaths
A picture taken on June 16, 2020 in Paris shows a box of Dectancyl, a drug manufactured by Sanofi containing dexamethasone. - The steroid dexamethasone has been found to save the lives of one third of the most serious COVID-19 cases, according to trial results hailed on June 16, 2020 as a "major breakthrough" in the fight against the disease. Researchers led by a team from the University of Oxford administered the widely available drug to more than 2,000 severely ill COVID-19 patients. Among those who could only breathe with the help of a ventilator, dexamethasone reduced deaths by 35 percent, and it reduced deaths of those receiving oxygen by a fifth, according to preliminary results. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images/AFP via Getty Images)

Doctors in England using an inexpensive and widely-available steroid to treat patients with COVID-19 virus say they are seeing dramatic improvement in survival rates for those who are the sickest from the virus.

Results of tests using the drug dexamethasone on patients with severe cases of the novel coronavirus have shown that the drug reduced deaths from the virus by up to one third.

After 28 days, it had reduced deaths by 35% in patients who needed treatment with breathing machines and by 20% in those only needing supplemental oxygen, The Associated Press reported. It did not appear to help less ill patients.

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“This is an extremely welcome result,” one study leader, Peter Horby of the University of Oxford said in a statement. "The survival benefit is clear and large in those patients who are sick enough to require oxygen treatment, so dexamethasone should now become standard of care in these patients. Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide.”

Dexamethasone is already used to reduce inflammation, and it is believed it helps stop some of the damage that can happen during a “cytokine storm,” or when the body's immune system goes into overdrive as it tries to fight the virus. The body’s overreaction has been shown to cause damage to the lungs and other issues.

The trial was led by a team from Oxford University. Around 2,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19 were given the drug and their results were compared with more than 4,000 who were as sick but did not get the drug.

For patients on ventilators, it cut the risk of death from 40% to 28%. For patients needing oxygen, it cut the risk of death from 25% to 20%.

As of Tuesday, an estimated 8.1 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with the virus, with about 439,000 people having died from COVID-19. More than 4.2 million people have recovered from the virus.