Dexamethasone is a drug used in the treatment of health conditions such as rheumatic problems, a number of skin diseases, severe allergies, asthma among others.
According to a report by BBC, the drug cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators. For those on oxygen, it cut deaths by a fifth.
Researchers estimate that if the drug had been available in the UK from the start of the coronavirus pandemic up to 5,000 lives could have been saved. Because it is cheap, it could also be of huge benefit in poor countries struggling with high numbers of Covid-19 patients.
In the trial, lead by a team from Oxford University, around 2,000 hospital patients were given dexamethasone and were compared with nearly 4,000 who did not get the drug.
For patients on ventilators it cut death risk from 40% to 28%. For patients needing oxygen it cut death risk from 25% to 20%.
Chief investigator Prof Peter Horby said: “This is the only drug so far that has been shown to reduce mortality and it reduces it significantly. It’s a major breakthrough.”
Lead researcher Prof Martin Landray says the findings suggest that for every eight patients needing ventilators that you treat, you could save one life.
In patients on oxygen, you save one life for every 20-25 or so treated with the drug.
“There is a clear, clear benefit. The treatment is up to 10 days of dexamethasone and it costs about £5 per patient. So essentially it costs £35 to save a life. This is a drug that is globally available.”
Prof Landray said, when appropriate, hospital patients should now be given it without delay, but people should not go out and buy it to take at home.
Dexamethasone does not appear to help people with milder symptoms of coronavirus – people who don’t need help with their breathing.
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