Cheap steroid offers critically ill virus patients some hope

Picture for illustration. Governments and private companies around the world -- like Sinovac Biotech in Beijing, seen here -- are working to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. Picture: AFP / File / NICOLAS ASFOURI

The South African Medical Association said critical information of data and proof was still required, as only a snippet of the trial findings were published.

The recent breakthrough trial for the treatment of critically ill coronavirus patients needs more findings for better understanding, say medical experts.

Dexamethasone, a cheap steroid treatment which is widely available and used throughout the world, was revealed to possibly save the lives of critically ill coronavirus patients.

According to a study from Oxford University, the Recovery (Randomised evaluation of Covid-19 therapy) trial published results which found that the lowdose anti-inflammatory drug could increase the survival rate of those on ventilators and oxygen.

Dexamethasone reduced deaths by one-third for patients on ventilators and one-fifth on those receiving oxygen. However, it was of no use to those not on respiratory support.

Although the South African Medical Association (Sama) was pleased with the findings, critical information of data and proof was still required as only a snippet of the trial findings were published.

Chair Angelique Coetzee said releasing the complete study was critical for scientists.

“Scientists have stressed that this is due to preliminary studies, and advice might be subject to change if the full publication is reviewed. Only snippets have been released. Once we have the critical information it will help us determine definite guidance,” she said.

The drug was often used to treat breathing disorders and autoimmune diseases, and also used in China and Italy to treat coronavirus, said infectious disease doctor Gilles van Cutsem.

“The anti-inflammatories decrease the inflammation response system.

“Part of the damage caused by the virus is due to our immune system or inflammation in response to the infection. Dexamethasone would most likely decrease inflammation in the lungs to decrease lung damage.

“It’s a cheap old drug that is commonly used in every hospital for allergic reactions, asthma and autoimmune diseases, whenever you need to decrease the inflammatory response,” Van Cutsem said.

The drug is manufactured in South Africa by pharmaceutical company Aspen, and an injection is available from R149.

The Recovery trial randomised 2,104 patients to receive, either by mouth or intravenous injection, 6mg of dexamethasone once a day for 10 days. A total of 11,500 more patients in 175 hospitals in the UK are part of the trial.

This could be the new form of treatment for patients as the drug was widely available, said Van Cutsem.

“It will certainly become the new standard of care for patients who need oxygen and ventilation.

“I don’t anticipate there to be supply problems. It’s a very widely available drug,” he said.

rorisangk@citizen.co.za

For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.



today in print