In a new paper, researchers suggest that, based on evidence from previous outbreaks of similar types of infections such as SARS, steroids provide little benefit to patients and could do more harm than good.
They say that clinicians should still administer the treatment for conditions such as asthma and other inflammatory diseases.
But steroids should be avoided in the treatment of the current novel coronavirus.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Edinburgh and elsewhere.
Steroids are often used by doctors to reduce inflammation, which is present in the lungs of patients with the novel coronavirus.
Lung inflammation was observed during the SARS and MERS outbreaks, which were caused by coronaviruses.
However, steroids also impair the immune system’s ability to fight viruses and other infections that often develop in patients with a life-threatening illness.
Experts say that, on balance, using the drugs could cause significant harm.
One retrospective study of critically-ill patients with MERS found that almost half of the people that received steroids needed additional treatments such as assistance in breathing, drugs to increase blood pressure, and a form of dialysis.
Those given steroids were found to take longer to clear the virus from their bodies.
Other studies found that steroids caused harm in the SARS outbreak, with the virus still present in those who took the drugs up to three weeks after infection.
The team says during this current coronavirus outbreak clinicians are faced with some tough decisions on how to treat people who have been infected.
After looking carefully at what evidence is available, they would advise that steroids should not be used for the treatment of lung injury caused by this new virus.
If steroids are used, it should be as part of a clinical trial so that scientists can find out if they are helping or harming patients.
The lead author of the study is Dr. J. Kenneth Baillie, an Academic Consultant in Critical Care Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.
The study is published in The Lancet.
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