Seriously ill Covid patients showing major improvement after experimental treatment

Seriously ill Covid-19 patients can greatly benefit from treatment with corticosteroids, possibly in combination with a medicine that slows the functioning of the immune system, according to researchers from the Zuyderland Medical Center in Geleen and Heerlen. In their hospital, this experimental treatment reduced mortality in this patient group by as much as 65 percent, NOS reports.

This involves patients who had a so-called cytokine storm, an overreaction of the immune system that causes inflammation in the body. This syndrome can occur with many infectious diseases. With Covid-19, it affects about a quarter of patients.

The doctors at the Limburg hospital started their study with this experimental treatment in March, when mortality among the sickest Covid-19 patients in the hospital was about 40 percent. Treatment with corticosteroids, combined with an anti-inflammatory if necessary, decreased mortality in this patient group by 65 percent. The number of patients who required ventilation dropped by 71 percent. And patients with severe respiratory problems had a 79 percent greater chance of improving than with standard care.

The doctors gave their patients a corticosteroid for five to seven days. If there ws no improvement, they added the anti-inflammatory inhibitor tocilizumab between the second and fifth day. This medicine is often used to treat rheumatism patients. 

A previous British study found that the corticosteroid dexamethasone reduced mortality in patients who had been ventilated by a third and in patients who received extra oxygen by 20 percent. The Dutch doctors added the anti-inflammatory. This was the first study into the effect of the combined treatment.