Health Care

WHO: New treatment only meant for severe COVID-19 cases

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday said a common drug shown to be effective in treating COVID-19 is meant for use only among those who are suffering the most severe symptoms of the disease, not those who have milder cases.

Scientists at the University of Oxford said Tuesday that their studies had showed dexamethasone was effective in reducing the mortality rate of severely ill patients. The study is the first to show that an already available drug is effective in reducing death rates among COVID-19 patients.

Dexamethasone is a steroid. It appears to reduce inflammation in the lungs, an immune system response that can damage tissue and hinder the body’s ability to absorb oxygen. Reducing inflammation gives a patient’s immune system a window of time in which to fight back against the disease.

The study showed it reduced deaths of those who are on oxygen or ventilators by one-third to one-fifth.

But WHO officials cautioned the drug is meant only for those who are in the most severe throes of the virus. It has not been tested or shown to be effective on those with milder forms of the virus.

“The benefit was seen in patients who were on oxygen therapy,” said Janet Diaz, the WHO’s head of clinical care. “There was no benefit seen in patients that had mild disease.”

“This drug is purely for use under close clinical supervision. It has only been shown so far to be useful in the treatment of severely ill people with COVID-19, those people on oxygen, those people on ventilators,” said Mike Ryan, who heads the WHO’s emergency program overseeing the global response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ryan said the drug is a powerful anti-inflammatory, one that is not meant for those who are not on oxygen support or as a prophylaxis against contracting the disease in the first place.

Scientists across the globe were ecstatic about the study, though some cautioned that they wanted to see more data before the drug is used to treat patients more widely. Several recent studies purporting to show benefits from various drugs and treatments have been retracted after new evidence comes to light or sketchy methodology is exposed.

The Oxford study has not been formally published or peer-reviewed. The WHO celebrated the news as a positive step, though they cautioned it is just one arrow in the quiver health officials will need to overcome the virus.

“This is great news, but it is part of the answer we need on the clinical side,” Ryan said. “It is one of the many breakthroughs we’re going to need in order to effectively deal with COVID-19.”

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 World Health Organization

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