Treating critically ill COVID-19 patients with corticosteroid drugs reduces the risk of death by 20 per cent, an analysis of seven international trials indicates, prompting the World Health Organisation to update its advice on treatment.
The analysis, which pooled data from separate trials of low-dose hydrocortisone, dexamethasone and methylprednisolone, concluded that steroids improve survival rates of COVID-19 patients sick enough to be in intensive care in hospital.
“This is equivalent to around 68 per cent of (the sickest COVID-19) patients surviving after treatment with corticosteroids, compared to around 60 per cent surviving in the absence of corticosteroids,” the researchers said in a statement.
WHO’s clinical care lead Janet Diaz said the agency had updated its advice to include a “strong recommendation” for use of steroids in patients with severe and critical COVID-19.
“The evidence shows that if you give corticosteroids … (there are) 87 fewer deaths per 1000 patients,” Dr Diaz told a WHO social media live event.
“Those are lives … saved.”
Jonathan Sterne, a professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at Britain’s Bristol University who worked on the analysis, said the trials – conducted by researchers in Britain, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Spain and the United States – gave a consistent message throughout, showing the drugs were beneficial in the sickest patients regardless of age or sex or how long patients had been ill.
The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reinforce results that were hailed as a major breakthrough and announced in June, when dexamethasone became the first drug shown to be able to reduce death rates among severely sick COVID-19 patients.
Dexamethasone has been in widespread use in intensive-care wards treating COVID-19 patients in some countries since then.