This One Thing Is Saving the Lives of the Most High-Risk Coronavirus Patients

Research suggests that Dexamethasone is effective in patients with the most severe cases.

While coronavirus continues to spread in most parts of the world, there's a bright spot on the horizon for the patients suffering the virus' most severe effects. A new study from the University of Oxford reveals that dexamethasone, a corticosteroid medication frequently used for the treatment of conditions including arthritis, psoriasis, allergies, and asthma, can significantly reduce the risk of death from coronavirus among patients on ventilators or receiving oxygen.

Among a group of 2,104 study subjects, the administration of dexamethasone reduced the death rate of ventilated patients by one third; in patients receiving oxygen, the death rate was reduced by one fifth. But while these numbers may seem promising, the treatment isn't for everyone—the study found no reduction in the death rate among patients who were receiving neither oxygen treatments nor ventilator support.

"Allergies and asthma are disorders that result from an overreaction by the immune system to harmless triggers such as pollen. Patients with COVID who suffer from more serious disease have a similar overreaction of the immune system called a cytokine storm," physician Leann Poston, MD, with Invigor Medical, told Best Life. "Mitigating some of the inflammatory damage from the immune system overreaction can help protect the lungs, heart, and blood vessels from damage."

young asian female doctor listening to patient's breathing
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"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," chief investigator Peter Horby, professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Oxford's Nuffield Department of Medicine, said in a statement.

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However, there are still some concerns regarding the long-term implications of the drug's use. "Using steroids is a risk-versus-benefits proposition, because you are blunting the immune response in a patient with an infection," explains Poston.

While other treatments have been suggested as means of improving the survival rates of COVID-19 patients, including antiviral drug Remdesivir and hydroxychloroquine, a drug frequently used to manage malaria, Horby noted that dexamethasone is the first treatment conclusively linked with lower mortality rates among individuals with coronavirus.

And though supply chain issues and the potential cost of both a coronavirus vaccine and treatment have been cited as potential impediments to curbing the pandemic, Horby lauded dexamethasone's low price and wide availability. "Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide," he said. And for more insight into the fight against COVID-19, check out these 7 Questions About the Coronavirus Vaccine, Answered by Doctors.

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