This existing drug may reduce COVID-19 death risk by 33%

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Dexamethasone is a steroid that has been used since the 1960s to reduce inflammation in a range of conditions, including inflammatory disorders and certain cancers.

It has been listed on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines since 1977 in multiple formulations and is currently off-patent and affordably available in most countries.

In a recent study at the University of Oxford and elsewhere, researchers found that drug dexamethasone, a corticosteroid, can be lifesaving for patients who are critically ill with COVID-19.

For patients on ventilators, the treatment could reduce mortality by about one third, and for patients requiring only oxygen, mortality was cut by about one fifth.

This is the first treatment to be shown to reduce mortality in patients with COVID-19 requiring oxygen or ventilator support.

The study is published in Medrxiv. One author is Peter Horby from Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford.

The researchers shared initial insights about the results of the study with WHO, and they are looking forward to the full data analysis in the coming days.

They warn that the benefit was only seen in patients seriously ill with COVID-19, and was not observed in patients with milder disease.

WHO will coordinate a meta-analysis to increase the overall understanding of this intervention, and WHO clinical guidance will be updated to reflect how and when the drug should be used in COVID-19.

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