Health experts have found a cheap and readily available steroid drug which can cut the risk of death by up to a third of critically ill coronavirus patients.
The discovery of the drug’s effect on sufferers is a huge breakthrough in the fight against the deadly virus.
The drug is a low-dose steroid treatment known as dexamethasone, and was part of the world's biggest trial to test if existing treatments can fight coronavirus. Dexamethasone is currently used to treat inflammation caused by various other unrelated conditions.
What happened in the trial?
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The Recovery Trial has been studying the effect of certain existing drugs on coronavirus patients since March this year.
It has been led by a team from Oxford University, and featured roughly 2,000 hospital patients who were each administered dexamethasone. They were then compared with more than 4,000 patients who did not receive the drug.
The trial also tested the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. However, this was found to be possibly dangerous, raising concerns that it increases heart problems and fatalities.
What did the trial find?
The trial found that this particular drug could cut the risk of death by a third, for patients on ventilators while it could cut deaths by a fifth for those on oxygen.
Researchers have now suggested that if the drug had been used as a form of treatment since the start of the pandemic, up to 5,000 lives could have been saved in the UK alone.
The drug cut the risk of death for patients on ventilators, from 40 per cent to 28 per cent. Meanwhile, for those just requiring extra oxygen, it cut the mortality risk from 25 per cent to 20 per cent.
Coronavirus can force the body into overdrive, which can be deadly. This reaction is known as a ‘cytokine storm’. However, dexamethasone appears to prevent some of the damage caused by the immune system when coronavirus forces it into this overworked state.
Addressing the findings, Chief investigator Professor Peter Horby said, "This is the only drug so far that has been shown to reduce mortality - and it reduces it significantly. It's a major breakthrough."
Meanwhile the lead researcher, Prof Martin Landray explained the findings suggest that the drug could save one out of eight patients on ventilators.