Scientists in the United Kingdom have discovered that an inexpensive and widely available drug is effective at treating patients who are severely ill from COVID-19. The drug is a steroid called dexamethasone.

In a study conducted by the University of Oxford, 2,104 patients were given dexamethasone through either an IV or orally. Meanwhile, 4,321 patients received standard care. Twenty-eight days later, the results were clear. The mortality rate in patients who needed supplemental oxygen was reduced by 20%. The mortality rate in patients who needed help from a breathing machine was reduced by 35%. Patients who are not seriously ill did not seem to benefit from dexamethasone.

In a statement, Peter Horby of the University of Oxford said the following:

“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.”

Hear more about this exciting news from Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the video below.

 

How does dexamethasone work?

Sometimes when a patient has COVID-19, the patient’s immune system overreacts while fighting the infection. This can lead to inflammation which can become fatal. Steroids reduce inflammation. Researchers believe that treatment involving dexamethasone could save one life for every 8 patients who need breathing machines. They also believe it could save one life for every 25 patients who need additional oxygen.

Researchers continue to look for even more effective treatments. In the meantime, Nick Cammack of Wellcome, a British charity that supports science research, believes “dexamethasone must now be rolled out and accessed by thousands of critically ill patients around the world.” Cammack was not involved in the study which is funded by private donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as government health agencies in the U.K.