Steroid called major breakthrough for COVID-19 patients may be harmful for mild cases

The full study of dexamethasone — a cheap, widely available steroid that some scientists have called a major breakthrough in COVID-19 treatment — was released by the University of Oxford and showed that while the drug may help patients with severe COVID-19 cases, it may do more harm than good for patients with milder cases, The New York Times reported. 

Dexamethasone was shown to reduce deaths by one-third for patients who had been sick for more than a week and were on mechanical ventilators. But patients who were given the drug early on while not receiving respiratory support died at a slightly higher rate than similar patients not given the drug. The difference in death rates between patients who received the drug early on and the patients who didn't get the drug was not statistically significant. 

The steroid may have different effects in patients based on which stage of COVID-19 they're given the drug. Steroids reduce the body's immune response, so in mildly ill patients, that may do more harm than good, according to the Times. But in the later phases of the disease when the immune system goes into overdrive, dexamethasone could be effective in preventing an immune system overreaction that could damage the body. 

Experts say dexamethasone shouldn't be used in the early phase of COVID-19 or as a preventive, the Times reported. 

The trial leaves some questions unanswered, including information about long-term effects and possible neurological damage. 

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