Indian doctors have said the reported success of dexamethasone — an inexpensive steroid that retails for less than ₹10 for 10 ml and is made by several Indian manufacturers — in saving the lives of COVID-19 patients on ventilators is good news for the country.
- Scientists administering the WHO-administered RECOVERY trial, the largest global clinical trial that is checking the ability of several repurposed drugs to treat COVID-19, reported that dexamethasone reduced deaths by one-third in ventilated patients and by one-fifth in other patients receiving oxygen only.
- There was no benefit among those patients who did not require respiratory support.
What is ‘Dexamethasone’?
- Dexamethasone is a steroid (not an antiviral drug) – a medicine that reduces inflammation by mimicking anti-inflammatory hormones produced by the body.
- This drug works by dampening down the body’s immune system.
- Coronavirus infection triggers inflammation as the body tries to fight it off. But sometimes the immune system goes into overdrive and it’s this reaction that can prove fatal – the very reaction designed to attack infection ends up attacking the body’s own cells.
- Dexamethasone calms this effect. It’s only suitable for people who are already in hospital and receiving oxygen or mechanical ventilation – the most unwell.
- The drug does not work on people with milder symptoms, and suppressing their immune system at this point would not be helpful.