COVID-19 patients who took the anti-inflammatory steroid dexamethasone while hooked up to oxygen at a hospital had “significantly reduced” odds of dying there or going into hospice care, a study has found.
Seven public health researchers published the national study Monday in JAMA Network Open, analyzing the results of a clinical trial at one large hospital system. They examined the records of 80,699 patients hospitalized with COVID respiratory illness for at least two days in 156 hospitals between July 1, 2020, and Oct. 31, 2021.
The study found patients requiring supplemental oxygen, mechanical ventilation or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation were less likely to die or be discharged to hospice after taking dexamethasone within 48 hours of either their hospital admission or an “escalation in oxygen support.”
“These results support the continued use of systemic dexamethasone in patients hospitalized with COVID-19,” the researchers wrote.
While “thousands of trials exploring novel and repurposed drugs” like dexamethasone have unfolded over the past three years, “few effective therapeutics are available to hospitalized patients with COVID-19,” the study noted.
Current COVID treatment guidelines from the National Institutes of Health recommend doctors use corticosteroids like dexamethasone “as the cornerstone of therapy in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 who require supplemental oxygen,” it added.
Dexamethasone is a prescription drug sold in the U.S. under several brand names, including Ozurdex and Maxidex. Doctors have long used the anti-inflammatory steroid to treat arthritis, blood disorders, allergic reactions, eye problems, breathing problems and immune system disorders, among other maladies.
The study built on an earlier trial that found hospitalized COVID patients receiving only supplemental oxygen were less likely to die within 28 days of ingesting a six-milligram dose of dexamethasone daily for up to 10 days. However, both studies had limitations, the researchers noted.
“We did not have data on vaccination status or days since symptom onset, both of which could have affected the treatment response and our interpretation of several administered medications, including antivirals and corticosteroids,” they wrote.