The pandemic virus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, has killed more than 438,000 people worldwide since it emerged late last year. We've learned that the virus is transmitted primarily through respiratory aerosols, and that infections may cause no symptoms at all in many people, while in others, it can impact many different organ systems in sometimes devastating ways. Researchers have been searching for a way to treat infections, and it seems there may finally be an answer. The treatment, however, only benefits the sickest patients, so it will still be important to maintain social distancing, good hygiene, and mask-wearing.
Dexamethasone was shown to reduce death due to COVID-19 in patients on a respirator by about a third. For patients on oxygen, death was reduced by about a fifth. Dexamethasone is a steroid that has been used for decades to treat several conditions including asthma and arthritis. It is inexpensive, commonly available, and easy to administer; it can be given intravenously or by mouth.
The results come from a study called RECOVERY, which was a randomized and controlled clinical trial that started in March in the United Kingdom. In this study, 2,100 people with coronavirus took a low or moderate dose of six milligrams of dexamethasone every day for ten days. Their results were compared with 4,300 patients that got standard care.
The positive effects of the drug were seen in ill patients, those with mild cases were not helped in any significant way by the medication. Incredibly, dexamethasone did not seem to cause any adverse effects.
“Finding effective treatments like this will transform the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on lives and economies across the world,” Nick Cammack, head of the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator at Wellcome, a UK biomedical research charity in London, said in a statement. “While this study suggests dexamethasone only benefits severe cases, countless lives will be saved globally.”
Remdesivir is another drug that was developed and tested as a COVID-19, it was shown to shorten recovery time in some patients. But it's been in short supply. Remdesivir also does not seem to significantly reduce the risk of death and has to be administered by injection over the course of several days.
Researchers suggested that dexamethasone could be used to easily treat about eight patients at a cost of 60 dollars.