Coronavirus treatment: What is dexamethasone? Can drug treat COVID-19?

Announcing NHS approval for dexamethasone, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Guided by the science, the UK is leading the way in the global fight against coronavirus – with the best clinical trials, the best vaccine development and the best immunology research in the world.” England’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, said that the new drug was “the most important trial result for COVID-19 so far.”

What is dexamethasone?

Dexamethasone is a type of corticosteroid (steroid) medication, which was first used as a treatment during the 1960s. 

It is mostly used as an anti-inflammatory drug and is used to treat conditions such as eczema, asthma and allergies. 

Dexamethasone is also used alone or in combination with other drugs in Britain to prevent or treat mild conditions related to cancer, such as anaemia, cerebral edema and hypercalmia. 

Like most other types of steroid, dexamethasone is only available via prescription, meaning you will not be able to buy it over the counter in your local pharmacy. 


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The medicine comes in tablet form, although liquid, syrup and dissolvable alternatives are also available. 

Mr Hancock said: “I’m absolutely delighted that today we can announce the world’s first successful clinical trial for a treatment for COVID-19. 

“This astounding breakthrough is testament to the incredible work being done by our scientists behind the scenes. 

“From today the standard treatment for COVID-19 will include dexamethasone, helping save thousands of lives while we deal with this terrible virus.”


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Can dexamethasone treat COVID-19?

Dexamethasone can be treated to treat COVID-19. During the clinical trials held at the University of Oxford, scientists administered 6mg of dexamethasone to more than 2,000 patients every day for a 10-day period. 

The patients were given tablets to take orally, with the results showing improved outcomes for COVID-19 patients without breathing issues. 

Researchers estimate that if dexamethasone had been administered throughout the pandemic, up to 5,000 lives could have been saved. 

Researchers said in a statement: “Based on these results, one death would be prevented by the treatment of around eight ventilated patients or around 25 patients requiring oxygen alone.”

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