Dexamethasone: A magical Corona drug that you should take only on prescription
Before a Covid-19 specific drug formula is found, a magical cure has been found to treat novel coronavirus infection. The drug is already available in the market.
It is dexamethasone-a steroid. Steroids can be understood as man-made versions of hormones that regulate our body functions.
The drug is inexpensive and widely used, even in India, to treat severe infections and life-threatening sepsis. Sepsis is an overreaction of body's immune system to an infection and can be fatal.
The "discovery" was made following one of the largest trials by a team of researchers from the Oxford University. A total of over 6,400 patients were observed before dexamethasone was announced as a "major breakthrough" in the fight against coronavirus pandemic.
The researchers administered dexamethasone to around 2,100 patients in hospitals and compared their recovery with another set of over 4,300 patients who were not given the drug. They found dexamethasone to be a life-saving drug for Covid-19 patients.
The steroid drug can cut the risk of death significantly. Its success rate among Covid-19 patients requiring ventilator support is 28-40 per cent. For those on oxygen, it reduces the fatality risk by 20-25 per cent.
Adding to this, the drug is affordable for the poor as well. India has a flourishing market for dexamethasone, whose largest manufacturer is Gujarat-based Zydus Cadila.
The Times of India quoted its chairman Pankaj Patel as saying, "There are enough supplies in India. It's been used for over four decades in several indications, and is very affordable."
It is a drug regulated under the Drug (Price Control) Order of 2013 of the central government. An injection of dexamethasone costs around Rs 5-6 and is also manufactured under medium and small scale pharmaceutical units.
But it comes with a warning.
As steroids are like hormones, they can have unwanted complications if taken without proper medical consultation. The drug, which is also available in tablet form, must not be taken without a doctor's prescription.
The researchers at Oxford University have warned about this, saying healthy people or Covid-19 patients with mild symptoms should not rush to their local pharmacy to purchase the drug for self-medication.
Like hydroxychloroquine, dexamethasone is to be taken only after the doctor prescribes it to a Covid-19 patient.
Further, the clinical trial showed that dexamethasone is of not much help to Covid-19 patients who have mild symptoms and do not require assisted breathing.
Dexamethasone is expected to hugely strengthen the fight against Covid-19 pandemic, for which only remdesivir had proven to be an effective medicine.
Remdesivir was used in Ebola, which did not attain a scale commensurate to that of Covid-19 pandemic, and hence the drug is not only new but also short in supply. Dexamethasone is a known tool in the hands of doctors.