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Corticosteroids, including Dexamethasone, could reduce mortality among critically ill COVID-19 patients. Photo: Xinhua/Jon Super via Getty Images

Data from seven studies with about 1,700 seriously ill COVID-19 patients found that corticosteroids reduce mortality by about one-third, according to analysis published Wednesday in JAMA.

Why it matters: Corticosteroids, which are anti-inflammatory drugs, could likely be a low-cost, first line of defense for critically ill coronavirus patients.

  • "In contrast to other candidate treatments for COVID-19 that, generally, are expensive, often unlicensed, difficult to obtain and require advanced medical infrastructure, systemic corticosteroids are low cost, easy to administer, and readily available globally," the World Health Organization said in guidance published Wednesday.

The state of play: The three studies, a meta-analysis and guidance from the WHO recommend the use of corticosteroids among critically ill patients only.

  • This type of treatment is not recommended for those with a mild case of COVID-19.
  • The authors also note it's too soon to know how the corticosteroids work to treat the illness. The data shows, however, that they appear to hinder a fatal immune response doctors refer to as "cytokine storm."

By the numbers: Between February and June, steroids dexamethasone, hydrocortisone and methylprednisolone were used on 678 severely ill patients.

  • 32.7% died, compared with 41.5% of patients receiving usual care or placebo.
  • “These trials and the meta-analysis have strengthened confidence, further defined the benefit, and shifted usual care of Covid-19–related [acute respiratory distress syndrome] to include corticosteroids,” according to the JAMA editorial.

The bottom line: For every 12 patients treated with corticosteroids, one life is saved, corresponding author of one of the studies, Jonathan Sterne, said in a JAMA interview Wednesday.

Go deeper

Dec 11, 2020 - Health

Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia announce new COVID-19 restrictions

Health care workers put on personal protective equipment before people arrive at a drive through testing site for coronavirus in Arlington, Virginia. Photo: Andrew Caballero/AFP via Getty Images

Governors in Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Virginia announced fresh coronavirus restrictions for their states on Thursday as the number of cases across the U.S. climbs.

Driving the news: The U.S. recorded 221,267 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and a record 3,124 deaths, per Johns Hopkins University data.

Dec 10, 2020 - Health

FDA advisory panel endorses Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for emergency use

A care home staff receiving a dose of the Pfizer/BioNtech coronavirus vaccine in Belfast on Dec. 9. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Images via Getty Images

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended the approval of Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for emergency use on Thursday in a 17-4 vote that included one abstention.

Why it matters: The FDA is expected to make a final decision on the vaccine within days. If the emergency use authorization is approved, millions of doses will be shipped to vaccinate health care workers and nursing home residents, though the general public is not expected to have access to the vaccine until spring, according to AP.

Dec 10, 2020 - Politics & Policy

New Hampshire speaker of the House dies of COVID-19

Rep. Richard Hinch speaks during the opening session of the New Hampshire Legislature on Dec. 2. Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

New Hampshire House Speaker Richard "Dick" Hinch died of COVID-19, the state's attorney general's office said Thursday, citing the autopsy report. He was 71.

The big picture: Hinch is among the record 3,124 people in the U.S. who died from the coronavirus on Wednesday.

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