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Yes, study finds dexamethasone improves critical Covid-19 patients’ survival rates

Researchers say dexamethasone, a steroid drug, improves seriously ill Covid-19 patients’ chances of survival, claim a slew of news articles shared on Facebook since 16 June 2020.

The BBC described it as a “breakthrough treatment” for coronavirus, and TimesLive said it was a “miracle drug”.

“Trial results announced on Tuesday showed dexamethasone, which is used to reduce inflammation in other diseases such as arthritis, reduced death rates by around a third among the most severely ill Covid-19 patients admitted to hospital,” TimesLive reported on 17 June.

The reports have been flagged as possibly false by Facebook’s fact-checking system. But they are correct.

‘An extremely welcome result’

The BBC explains that dexamethasone reduces inflammation by “mimicking anti-inflammatory hormones produced by the body”.

On 16 June the University of Oxford announced that the steroid could reduce the risk of death in severely ill Covid-19 patients by about a third.

A randomised clinical named Recovery – Randomised Evaluation of Covid-19 Therapy – tested low-dose dexamethasone as a treatment for the disease.

Out of the 6,425 patients in the study, 2,104 were “randomised to receive dexamethasone 6 mg once per day for 10 days and were compared with 4321 patients randomised to usual care alone,” the university said

Among the patients who received usual care alone, “28-day mortality was highest in those who required ventilation (41%), intermediate in those patients who required oxygen only (25%), and lowest among those who did not require any respiratory intervention (13%)”.

Dexamethasone reduced deaths by one-third in ventilated patients and by a fifth in other patients receiving oxygen only. “There was no benefit among those patients who did not require respiratory support.”

Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases at Oxford, said in the announcement: “Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in Covid-19. 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.”

The university said it was important to note that the trial found no evidence of benefit “for patients who did not require oxygen and we did not study patients outside the hospital setting”. – Taryn Willows


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