In June, a large study led by the University of Oxford found that a steroid called dexamethasone cut deaths by up to 35% in hospitalized COVID-19 patients who needed treatment with breathing machines and by 20% in those only needing extra oxygen. It did not help less sick patients and might even have even been harmful at that stage of illness.
The results changed care immediately and prompted many other studies that were testing steroids to stop, so more people could be given the drug. The new analysis looked at results from six of those studies that were stopped early plus severe patients in the Oxford study to see if all types of steroids were similarly effective, and concluded they are.
There were 222 deaths among the 678 patients given a steroid and 425 deaths among the 1,025 patients given placebos or just usual care.
“I’m delighted. It’s incredibly reassuring that the other trials all were lining up in the same direction. It’s the most solid news we’ve had yet on how to take care of patients with COVID-19.”
- Dr. Derek Angus, critical care chief at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who helped lead one of the studies.
Mark Shannon, a 61-year-old retired bank teller from Pittsburgh who spent 11 days on a breathing machine, received the steroid hydrocortisone in the study and recovered. His doctor told him “that was pretty stupendous” to recover from so long on a ventilator, he said.
“I realize how close I came to losing my life,” he said.
The WHO issued treatment advice Wednesday recommending steroids for patients with severe COVID-19 and suggested not using them for less sick patients.
Treatment guidelines in the U.S. now recommend dexamethasone or others only when it's not available for hospitalized COVID-19 patients needing extra oxygen, but that could change with the new information.
AP medical writer Maria Cheng in London contributed to this report.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
FILE - This Tuesday, June 16, 2020 file photo shows a bottle and box for dexamethasone in a pharmacy in Omaha, Neb. New studies confirm that cheap steroid drugs improved survival for severely ill COVID-19 patients, cementing this as a standard of care and expanding options to more types than this one previously shown to help. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Credit: Nati Harnik
Credit: Nati Harnik