UK STUDY: steroid improved outcomes for severely-ill COVID-19 patients

Published: Jun. 17, 2020 at 3:47 PM CDT
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A known malaria drug used early on to treat COVID-19 no longer has the Food and Drug Administration's approval. However, researchers in the United Kingdom say there's a new drug that could help the sickest coronavirus patients.

On Monday, the FDA pulled its 'emergency use authorization' for use of Hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19. The FDA writes that its revocation is based on "new information, including clinical trial data results, that have led BARDA to conclude that this drug may not be effective to treat COVID-19 and that the drug’s potential benefits for such use do not outweigh its known and potential risks."

"The risks that go along with it are numerous. One is something that can affect a heart rhythm, especially if taken with Azithromycin, which is a way we were seeing some of those prescriptions come in, both those can cause an arrhythmia," said John Lemke, a pharmacist at Streu's Pharmacy.

Now there's a new drug being promoted by the British Government after preliminary results from a large medical study led by the University of Oxford. It found a commonly-used steroid, Dexamethasone, can reduce the risk of dying for those severely ill from COVID-19 by 35 percent.

"The study that was done in UK was treating patients only who were in the hospital," said Lemke. "What it showed was patients were less likely to die if on a ventilator or oxygen. It did not show any benefit if you were just hospitalized not on oxygen or taking it orally in your own home."

Lemke said it's important for people to realize Dexamethasone is not a prevention treatment for COVID-19, meaning people shouldn't stockpile it like some did for Hydroxychloroquine.

"So the risk we run with news like this is that folks will hear the word Dexamethasone and go out and seek a prescription," said Lemke. "This is strictly given in an IV in a hospital and there is no evidence at all it will work for folks in their own home...we don't have evidence this medication will do anything for folks who aren't on a ventilator or on oxygen."

Lemke said this study should give people hope as we wait for the development of a vaccine.

"The takeaway from the study is there's hope for people who are very sick right now with it. It can reduce the risk of dying. It is an inexpensive drug, but it is to be used for people in the hospital on oxygen or on a ventilator," said Lemke. "Patience is going to be best. The vaccine-- there's a lot in the pipeline and hopefully we will have something by the end of the year, but in the meantime, we will do what we have been doing with safe practices, social distancing and wearing a mask."

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