In mid-April, when the spread of COVID-19 pandemic beyond China's borders hadn't yet led to a big loss of human lives, a study showed that steroid use could save many people killed by the novel coronavirus.
Dr Hamid Merchant and Dr Syed Shahzad Hasan, researchers at the University of Huddersfield, England, found that using corticosteroids such as dexamethasone lowered the death rate due to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) associated with severe COVID-19 cases.
The two scientists analysed data related to COVID-19 patients who got severely ill and eventually lost the battle to it. These people were among those who were treated with corticosteroids. They found that 28 percent of those who were given this type of steroids died, but 69 percent of those in groups of patients who were not given corticosteroids also died. Their research has now been published in the Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine Journal after a long peer-review.
This conclusion by Huddersfield scientists is significant since the same results came to light in the famous 'RECOVERY' trials at Oxford University, two months after their study, following which, the United Kingdom government approved the use of dexamethasone for treating coronavirus patients. The rest of the world soon followed suit.
However, according to data from Worldometer, over 300,000 people had lost their lives due to COVID-19 between mid-April and mid-June. This suggests that if the analysis of Dr Hamid and Dr Syed had been considered in April itself, perhaps many lives could have been saved across the world.
Alas, that did not happen.
Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) had said at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that steroids should not be used to treat COVID-19 patients. However, despite WHO's advice in this regard, medical research institutes around the world have supported the advantages of steroids in reducing the mortality of COVID-19 patients with ARDS.
The prestigious National Institutes of Health, USA, is one such institute. Later, while acknowledging the effects of dexamethasone, the WHO also stated that this steroid is effective in reducing coronavirus mortality.
What is dexamethasone?
It is a type of steroid which has been used since 1960 to reduce many types of inflammation. These include many inflammatory disorders and inflammation in certain types of cancers. Since 1977, this drug has been included in the WHO list of essential medicines in different formulations. Currently, it is not patented and readily available in most countries.
For more information, read our article on Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).
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