Dexamethasone, a steroid in use for decades, reduced deaths of COVID-19 patients on ventilators by about a third compared with standard care, researchers reported in a news release June 16. Deaths of COVID-19 patients on supplemental oxygen were reduced by about 20 percent. Researchers found no benefit for hospitalized patients who didn’t need extra oxygen.
If the results hold up to scrutiny once scientists have a chance to review the full data, the drug would be the first to reduce the risk of death from the disease. For the majority of patients, the drug probably would not do any good and may even do harm. Dexamethasone and other steroids dampen the immune system’s response to invading organisms, and have been shown to make viral infections, such as influenza and SARS worse. Researchers thought that if steroids worsened SARS, it might do the same for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.