Dexamethasone for COVID-19 Treatment: Misconceptions and Facts

On June 16, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a statement that welcomed the initial clinical trial results from the United Kingdom indicating Dexamethasone, an existing drug,  can help save the lives of critically ill COVID-19 patients.

“This is the first treatment to be shown to reduce mortality in patience with COVID-19 requiring oxygen or ventilator support,” said Dr Tendros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO.

The ecstasy that met the announcement about the cheap and readily available Dexamethasone saw a considerable sharing of the information in online communities and on social media platforms.

One of such shared information read: “Hurray Dexamethasone is the new treatment for corona virus.” This created a wrong impression that the drug was for general treatment of COVID-19, with some people even recommending it in communities as a preventive drug for the disease.

Fact-checkghana.com seeks to enumerate the basic facts on the use of Dexamethasone for COVID-19 treatment as established in publications by WHO, the BBC and Ghana’s Food and Drugs Authority:

  1. The benefits of the drug were observed only in critically ill COVID-19 patients, those who require ventilators or oxygen.
  2. Dexamethasone is not suitable for individuals with mild symptoms or asymptomatic conditions.
  3. In the trial for patients on ventilators, risk of death was cut from 40% to 28% whereas risk of death was cut from 25% to 20% for patients needing oxygen.
  4. Dexamethasone helps patients by preventing the massive inflammation in the lungs and hearts which causes severe respiratory problems in critically ill patients.
  5. Dexamethasone is common and is less costly to use to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients. A 10-day treatment only costs $6 per patient per day.
  6. Dexamethasone should not be used for the prevention of COVID-19 because it can potentially suppress the immune system thereby weakening the body’s natural function to fight against COVID-19 and other infections.
  7. There is no need for individuals and families to buy or stock Dexamethasone for use unless prescribed by a qualified medical officer.
  8. When Dexamethasone is used persistently, it could lead to cataracts, muscle pain and bone loss.

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