Mere hours after the FDA rescinded its emergency treatment options for COVID-19 with hydroxychloroquine, a new discovery to treat the virus hit the news: dexamethasone.
Though it has a scary name, dexamethasone is a common steroid that’s wildly available throughout the United States. While it might not be the answer to fully treating patients suffering from COVID-19, early studies have shown promising results, especially among particularly sick patients.
Dexamethasone is a low-dose steroid that is commonly used to treat inflammation due to arthritis, allergies, and even some cancers. According to Fast Company, researchers in England administered six milligrams of dexamethasone to 2,104 patients over the course of the 10-day study. These patients were opposite the control group, a series of 4,321 patients that were given the typical treatment measures without the use of dexamethasone.
The results? Dexamethasone cut the risk of death for those on ventilators by more than one-third. For those on oxygen, the number of deaths decreased by about 20%. BBC explains that the steroid was a part of the world’s largest trial testing of existing treatments. Other medications being explored include Lopinavir-Ritonavir (which is commonly used to treat HIV), Azithromycin (an antibiotic), and Tocilizumab (another anti-inflammatory medication). The list also included hydroxychloroquine, a drug commonly used to treat malaria infections, before it was found to be ineffective against the current strain of coronavirus.
This is particularly good news for those at a greater risk of contracting serious cases of COVID-19, including those with weakened immune systems. Studies have shown that the rates of COVID-19 infection and subsequent deaths are higher in those who have disabilities. According to NPR, those with developmental disabilities die because of COVID-19 at a rate that’s 2.5 times higher than folks without these disabilities. When one in every 700 babies is born with Down syndrome, a disproportionate sect of our communities are at a heightened risk for suffering from COVID-19.
The results of the study have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, but many scientists are hoping this is a step in the right direction. This is even more promising since the widely available drug only costs around $40, according to GoodRx.
“This is a completely compelling result,” explains Martin Landray who serves as the deputy chief investigator of the trial and as a professor at the University of Oxford. “If one looks at the patients who did not require ventilators but were on oxygen, there was also a significant risk reduction of about one-fifth. However, we didn’t see any benefit in those patients who were in the hospital, had COVID, but whose lungs were working sufficiently well — they were not taking either oxygen or on ventilators.”
He goes on to explain that this yields a number of questions that have yet to be answered. Though it’s the first drug proven to reduce morbidity because of COVID-19, there are still drawbacks to using the medication without doctor supervision. Since many people have access to dexamethasone at home, researchers have also iterated that taking the steroid to treat COVID symptoms should only be performed under medical supervision. Though the CDC notes that car accidents are among the leading causes of death, misuse of prescription drugs is high on the list of accidental deaths.
The study surrounding dexamethasone’s clinical trials took place thanks to the Nuffield Department of Medicine and Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford. Most of the trials of experimental drugs are being performed by medical organizations and universities such as these, but even entrepreneurs and big companies are dipping their toes into the water.
There’s no doubt that COVID-19 will change the way we work and do business in the future. Until we find a vaccine to prevent it from affecting large sections of the population, however, the results of the pandemic have yet to end.
In the meantime, further studies of the current drug trials are needed but researchers are optimistic that this treatment can achieve widespread use soon. Since about half of COVID-19 sufferers on ventilators pass away, this is a big step in the right direction.
Quick Facts About Dexamethasone
While the results of Dexamethasone in reducing the risk of ventilator-related deaths associated with COVID-19 is very promising, you have to be knowledgeable about the overall effects of this drug for effective use.
It is crucial to talk to your doctor to get a prescription for this drug because you cannot obtain it over-the-counter. Because COVID-19 has tremendously affected the livelihood of many people, those with a tight budget can take advantage of prescription discount cards available for dexamethasone.
Take a look at the following facts about this medication:
- Dexamethasone refers to a form of glucocorticosteroids, which are commonly prescribed to people who suffer from arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis. They’re also used in people who suffer from other disorders. The reason that these medicines are often used in combination is that they work together to reduce inflammation and reduce pain. Because of this, it’s not surprising that this prescription drug is used in combination when treating arthritis, Lupus, HIV, and AIDS.
- It should be noted that some doctors don’t recommend taking this drug for long-term use. For some people, it can cause anemia, which can cause problems with the immune system and will result in fatigue. In addition, you may also have increased blood pressure and fluid retention.
- It’s also important to know that the amount of time that you should take to notice the benefits or the side effects of this medication will vary according to the individual. Some people can take it daily, while others have symptoms, such as diarrhea, within a few days or weeks.
- Dexamethasone may increase the possibility of kidney failure, heart attack, stroke, pancreatitis, and leukemia.
Dexamethasone, like any other potential drug for COVID-19 treatment, has both benefits and drawbacks. The above article explains the promising results of Dexamethasone in reducing the risk of ventilator-related deaths as commonly manifested by severe COVID-19 patients. Before taking this drug with the intended purpose of treating or preventing coronavirus, it’s essential to talk to a licensed doctor for expert advice.