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Steroid Showing 'Glimmer Of Hope' Among Sickest Coronavirus Patients

DENVER (CBS4) - Doctors and researchers in Colorado said Tuesday they are seeing a similar result to a study in the United Kingdom from the use of steroids to treat severely ill COVID-19 patients. Dexamethasone helped improved survival from the coronavirus, according to a study also released on Tuesday by the University of Oxford.

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"The patients that require supplemental oxygen or ones that are on mechanical ventilation appeared to be the ones that benefited the most," said Dr. William Janssen, the Section Head of Critical Care at National Jewish Health. "We've been using steroids in many of our patients with COVID-19 as well."

Janssen shared that National Jewish works with another steroid in the same category as dexamethasone called solumedrol. He says there are three or four drugs that qualify for this type of treatment. In some cases, lung damage from COVID-19 is an example of how serious someone is battling the infection and that they could benefit from this medication. This is not the type of anabolic steroid used by some to increase muscle mass.

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"We evaluate each patient on a case by case basis and if they are critically ill and look like they might benefit from a steroid, we give one," he told CBS4 on Tuesday over a video conference call. "Our practice mirrors in large measure what the study reports in the UK."

More than 2,100 patients got dexamethasone and their results were compared to more than 4,300 who got usual care, according to the University of Oxford. For 10 days, patients received the drug orally or through an IV. After four weeks, deaths reduced by 35% for patients who needed a breathing machine and by 20% for those receiving supplemental oxygen.

Researchers say it did not help less ill patients.

"What we're learning is that steroids are most beneficial for the sickest of the patients," Janssen said. "If someone has coronavirus but is not hospitalized, we would not recommend steroids in that situation."

The full results of the study in the UK have not yet been released. Doctors say we still need to learn more about who was involved in this study and who researchers chose not to use as patients. He also says with this category of medication, side effects need to be considered. For some, diabetes can be hard to control and steroids would make that condition worse.

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"Each patient we evaluate as an individual to see whether the steroids would benefit that person," he said. "That will certainly help us as we tailor therapies for our patients."

Staff at the University of Colorado Hospital also told CBS4 on Tuesday that the same drug used by overseas researchers, dexamethasone, has been prescribed to many patients with COVID-19. The hospital also says it is in the beginning stages of a randomized clinical trial to study the drug.

The results abroad and locally suggest to doctors that there is an appeal to using these type of steroids for certain patients with the Coronavirus. While there is still a lot more to learn, it is exciting for them to see a medication that can be life-saving in some cases.

"I do think this offers a glimmer of hope for treatment of patients with COVID-19," Janssen said. "This is something, as everyone knows, that has really impacted the country and the globe and so any treatment that can save lives is certainly welcome."

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