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A low-cost anti-inflammatory drug appears to reduce the risk of death in patients with COVID-19.
The drug is called dexamethasone. It's been used for decades to treat conditions such as arthritis and asthma. Because patients with advanced COVID-19 disease can have severe lung inflammation, scientists wanted to see if dexamethasone could treat that condition.
It was one of the drugs studied in a large clinical trial in the United Kingdom known as RECOVERY, or Randomized Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy.
During the study, 2,104 patients were randomly selected to receive 6 milligrams of dexamethasone once a day (either by mouth or by intravenous injection) for 10 days. That group was compared with 4,321 patients who received the usual care alone.
"Dexamethasone reduced deaths by one-third in ventilated patients," according to a news release from the RECOVERY trial organizers, "and by one fifth in other patients receiving oxygen only." There was no benefit for patients who didn't need help breathing as a result of their illness.
"Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in COVID-19," said Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases in the Nuffield Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford and one of the chief investigators for the trial.
"This is an extremely welcome result. 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."
It's not clear whether that will be the case. Details of the study have not been released. What's more, other studies of similar drugs have failed to find a benefit for patients suffering from other diseases associated with a coronavirus.
The RECOVERY trial organizers said they decided to make their announcement by news release because of "the public health importance of these results." The release added that "we are now working to publish the full details as soon as possible."
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