What is dexamethasone, and how can it help treat coronavirus?

A “groundbreaking” drug which reduces a person’s risk of death from the coronavirus has been given to patients on the NHS following successful British trials.

Dexamethasone, a widely-used steroid which works to reduce inflammation, has been hailed by Boris Johnson as the “biggest breakthrough yet” in Covid-19 treatment. 

The drug costs just £5 for a course of treatment and is expected to have a major impact on the coronavirus pandemic both at home and abroad.

But what is it, and how does it work?

What is Dexamethasone?

Dexamethasone was developed in 1957 and was first approved for medical use by the Food and Drug Administration in the US in 1958.

It is a widely-used steroid drug which works to reduce inflammation and has been used to treat a number of different conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.

The drug is also used in end-of-life care and can work to prevent the immune system from destroying blood platelets in people with blood disorders.

Patients with a brain tumour may also be prescribed dexamethasone to reduce swelling around the tumour.

UK trials of dexamethasone as a Covid-19 treatment

Trials of dexamethasone by scientists at the University of Oxford have been underway since March.

The study formed part of the Recovery (Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY) trial to test a range of potential treatments for Covid-19, including low-dose dexamethasone. 

The Oxford team recruited 2,104 patients who received 6mg of dexamethasone once a day either orally or by intravenous injection for 10 days. Their outcomes were compared with a control group of 4,321 patients.

The mortality rate of those with Covid-19 who end up on a ventilator is above 40 per cent, but this figure was reduced by a third among those prescribed dexamethasone.

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