An analysis by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which drew together results from several studies, confirms the benefit of this group of anti-inflammatory steroid drugs, known as corticosteroids.

While earlier studies showed the apparent benefit of one of these drugs, dexamethasone, this latest evidence goes further.

It shows other cheap and readily available corticosteroid drugs, including hydrocortisone, could benefit patients at the life-threatening stages of coronavirus infection.

Importantly, the analysis also concluded the benefits were not specific to one corticosteroid drug but were the same for dexamethasone and hydrocortisone.

Corticosteroids can also have an impact on the immune system. So the researchers looked at the risk of infection from other causes, for example bacterial pneumonia, and found it was not a major concern.

The weight of evidence has led WHO guidelines this week to strongly recommend using corticosteroids to treat people with severe or critical COVID-19.

This aligns with current Australian guidelines for treating hospitalised patients with COVID-19 needing oxygen support.

Corticosteroids are not for everyone and are not a cure

It is important to remember these findings only apply to using corticosteroids in critically ill people hospitalised with COVID-19. There is currently limited information to suggest these medicines are appropriate for people with mild COVID-19.

While corticosteroids help treat the body’s response to the coronavirus infection, they are not antiviral drugs. They do not inhibit the virus itself, so they are not a cure.

A new way of doing research

Usually, several clinical trials on a common theme are published over a series of years. Then a meta-analysis draws together their results, publishing these combined results much later.

But the amazing thing about this latest evidence is the meta-analysis included data from clinical trials published at the same time. This shows a degree of co-operation and collaboration between researchers to share data to urgently address important research questions that guide clinical care.

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