Coronavirus: Steroid drugs reduce deaths in sickest COVID-19 patients, WHO analysis confirms

Inexpensive, widely available steroid drugs help reduce novel coronavirus deaths among the most severely ill patients, according to a World Health Organization analysis released Wednesday.

The analysis, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, examined seven randomized clinical trials involving 1,703 patients. The investigation confirmed the June findings of a clinical trial in Great Britain that concluded corticosteroids such as dexamethasone were found to reduce deaths among COVID-19 patients on ventilators or those receiving only oxygen by one-third and one-fifth, respectively.

Corticosteroids – including dexamethasone, hydrocortisone and methylprednisolone – often are prescribed by doctors to minimize the body’s immune system activity, alleviating inflammation, swelling and pain. In turn, many COVID-19 patients have actually died of their bodies’ overreactions to the virus and not the virus itself, The New York Times reported.

In turn, the WHO issued new treatment guidance Wednesday recommending a seven- to 10-day course of steroids for “patients with severe and critical COVID-19,” The Hill reported.

The guidelines do not, however, extend to the treatment of patients with non-severe infections “given that current data indicated they would not likely derive benefit and may derive harm.”

“Clearly, now steroids are the standard of care,” JAMA Editor-in-Chief Dr. Howard C. Bauchner told the Times.

According to the analysis’ authors, the only other drug to date shown to improve outcomes for critically ill COVID-19 patients has been Remdesivir, and those improvements have been modest at best.

Corticosteroids are not without risk, however, especially in elderly patients.

Steroids of any kind can have adverse effects, including raising blood sugar levels, causing confusion and delirium and leaving patients vulnerable to other opportunistic infections. These side effects can be especially pronounced in elderly patients, who make up the lion’s share of sickest COVID-19 patients, the Times reported.

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