This week gave us reports of successful trials of cheap and widely available drug which might be able to help save lives of patients seriously ill with Covid-19 and which could represent what is described as a “major breakthrough in treatment” by lead investigator Professor Peter Horby.

The drug is a well- known steroid called dexamethasone and is already used to reduce inflammation in a range of other conditions. It seems to work by preventing some of the damage that can happen when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive as it tries to fight off coronavirus, which is called a “cytokine storm”.

Because it is inexpensive, it could work very well in poorer countries.

Sadly, it doesn’t work for every patient who contracts Covid19. About 19 out of 20 patients with coronavirus recover without hospital admission. If admitted, most still recover but some may need oxygen or mechanical ventilation.  These are the high-risk patients dexamethasone appears to help.

The trial of the drug, led by a team at Oxford University appears to show the drug cutting the rate of death for patients on ventilators from 40% to 28% and for patients needing oxygen, from 25% to 20%.

Professor Martin Landray, lead researcher said:

“There is a clear, clear benefit.  The treatment is up to 10 days of dexamethasone and it costs about £5 per patient. So essentially it costs £35 to save a life. This is a drug that is globally available and when appropriate, hospital patients should now be given it without delay”

Funny how sometimes the simplest solutions work best, isn’t it?  Anyone who has read H.G. Wells’ “War Of The Worlds” where the world is taken over by Martians will know how…..well, I’m not going to spoil it for you by telling you the end!

But DON’T buy it to self -medicate.  Dexamethasone does not appear to help people with milder symptoms of coronavirus who do not need help with their breathing. As always, our advice is if you have concerns, contact your GP in the usual way. The NHS is still open for business.

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