An analysis of seven worldwide trials has found that corticosteroid drugs can significantly improve survival rates of COVID-19 patients sick enough to be admitted into intensive care units.
Treating severely ill COVID-19 patients with these steroids reduces the risk of death by about a third, according to the analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association .
The studies that were analyzed involved a total of 1,700 patients who received different corticosteroids — anti-inflammatory drugs that reduce the impact of an overactive immune system. The findings earned support from the World Health Organization, which has updated its advice on such treatments.
“This newest analysis is another backup of the evidence that we have,” explains Javier Pérez-Fernández, M.D., pulmonologist and critical care director at Baptist Hospital of Miami. “It confirms that steroids are indicated (as a treatment for some patients). It is of great value for the scientific community to have this evidence. It supports how we’ve been treating patients since the beginning of the pandemic. We’ve seen effective treatments with the use of steroids.”
But Dr. Perez-Fernandez emphasizes that this treatment is only effective for a certain subset of COVID-10 patients who are critically ill with respiratory issues. It is a treatment that requires consultation with a physician.
“We have observed significant improvement with these treatments, but I want to highlight the fact that neither steroids — nor any other treatment that’s available at this point — is a cure the coronavirus disease,” he said. “It is a great adjuvant therapy — that means it’s an affective addition to existing treatments — but it’s not a cure.”
He also stresses that steroids target mostly critically ill COVID-19 patients with respiratory issues. The authors who wrote the analysis of steroid-use cases said that the patients received mostly “supplemental oxygen by nasal prongs” and “noninvasive ventilatory support in the form of high-flow oxygen or positive pressure by mask.”
“The use of steroids seems to be beneficial for patients who develop respiratory symptoms,” stresses Dr. Perez-Fernandez. “We’re talking about respiratory symptoms that mostly that require the need for oxygen. I want to stress this because the studies have shown no benefit, unless you have respiratory symptoms. I think this point is very important.”