Steroids reduce death risk in COVID patients

These drugs are cheap and readily available
  • Deborah Condon

The use of common steroid drugs reduces the risk of death among critically ill COVID-19 patients by an estimated 20%, new research has revealed.

Corticoteroids reduce inflammation in the body and are used to treat a number of conditions, such as asthma, skin problems, arthritis and severe allergies.

An international team of scientists analysed the results of seven trials and found that treatment with any one of the three corticosteroids - dexamethasone, hydrocortisone or methylprednisolone - led to an estimated 20% reduction in the risk of death.

This is equivalent to around 68% of patients surviving after treatment with corticosteroids, compared to around 60% per cent surviving in the absence of corticosteroids.

The seven trials involved 1,703 critically ill patients located worldwide and the beneficial effect of corticosteroids was irrespective of people's age, gender or how long they had been ill.

"Our review is good news in the effort to treat COVID-19. Steroids are a cheap and readily available medication, and our analysis has confirmed that they are effective in reducing deaths among the people most severely affected by COVID-19. The results were consistent across the trials and show benefit regardless of age or sex," commented Prof Jonathan Sterne of the University of Bristol in the UK.

According to Janet Diaz, lead of the clinical response for COVID-19 with the World Health Organization's (WHO) emergency programme, the results shows that if you give corticosteroids to critically ill patients, there will be 87 fewer deaths per 1,000 patients.

The findings have led to the WHO updating its treatment advice to include the use of corticosteroids in severely ill patients.

"The WHO is committed to transforming science to policy in order to save lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged us to work faster, but not to sacrifice quality and standards.

"The WHO Rapid Evidence Appraisal for COVID-19 Therapies (REACT) Working Group demonstrates how, in solidarity, science and public health can come together quickly for a common cause. The milestone of pooling of trial data before publication, using that data to inform clinical guidance development and then simultaneous publication of the evidence and guidance is unprecedented," Ms Diaz commented.

Details of these findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.


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