Last week, there were two major announcements related to the 2019 novel coronavirus. In fact, many would consider these as favourable developments in the struggle to end the devastating pandemic. On one hand, studies suggest that individuals with blood type O are inherently more resistant to COVID-19 infection. Meanwhile, the other is a promising treatment from a trial conducted by Oxford University researchers with dexamethasone. Given how most healthcare facilities are already overwhelmed by patients, some hospitals in the United States have reportedly begun using the drug.

This is a surprising move, according to Reuters, as the general procedure followed by doctors is to wait for guidelines from regulators. Nevertheless, some experts point out that this is an example of how the ongoing outbreak changes the norm. While the results from the study of the corticosteroid hint at its effectiveness, it is yet to be peer-reviewed and published in a general medical journal.

Based on the national trials conducted by the British government, among the many drugs that were tested, only dexamethasone produced a potentially life-saving outcome among COVID-19 patients. It was administered to approximately 2,000 volunteers who were either on ventilators or on supplemental oxygen. It was able to substantially reduce the risk of death by a third as detailed by the research team.

Meanwhile, the health ministry of the UK seems to have approved its use by state-run health services. With surging cases in many areas in the US, "it almost feels unethical not to use the drug," as stated by University of Florida medical school infectious disease specialist Dr. Kartik Cherabuddi. Many hospitals in the country have been using remdesivir – an antiviral produced by biotech company Gilead Science – to aid in recovery.

Dexamethasone treatments start in US hospitals
Dexamethasone, a commonly-used steroid, can help critically-ill COVID-19 patients, according to a new study AFP / JUSTIN TALLIS

In contrast, other hospital systems, such as New York's Northwell Health and the University of Washington confirm that they are not treating COVID-19 patients with steroids as standard care. The latter's Dr. Mark Wurfel stated: "For us, the case numbers are low and so there is not much pressure to do something new." He then added that "the urgency of having hundreds, maybe thousands of very sick COVID patients in hospitals and ICUs changes the calculus. Many lives could be saved if the trial results are real."