Cheap asthma drug ‘cuts Covid recovery time at home’

Cheap asthma drug ‘cuts Covid recovery time at home’
LONDON, APR 12 (AGENCIES) | Publish Date: 4/12/2021 1:04:35 PM IST

The first treatment for coronavirus in the community could soon be available from GPs, after researchers at Oxford University found that a cheap asthma drug can cut illness time by three days.

There is currently no specific treatment for coronavirus, with patients usually being advised to take paracetamol to reduce their fever, or cough medicine.

However, Oxford University found that in the most at-risk patients, inhaled budesonide clears up the infection far more quickly and may even prevent hospitalisation and long Covid.

The results are now with the Department of Health, who are soon expected to issue guidance recommending that the drug be used for patients in the community. Scientists chose to trial the corticosteroid budesonide after noticing that people with asthma were under-represented in hospitalised Covid patients, which is not the case in other respiratory illnesses, such as seasonal flu. Researchers suspected it could be the asthma treatments which were preventing the virus from progressing.

The trial showed that on average the 971 patients who had been assigned inhaled budesonide recovered three days more quickly than nearly 2,000 people who received standard care. Nearly a third got better within two weeks compared to just 22 per cent of the control group.

Associate Professor Gail Hayward, co-lead investigator of the Principle trial and a practicing GP, said: “For the first time in the pandemic I now have evidence for a treatment to offer my patients, the ones who are at home, not hospital, who develop Covid.

“We found that for patients at higher risk of severe Covid-19, we can shorten the duration of their illness, improve their wellbeing and they do better when they’ve recovered. We can certainly see a better future for patients with a high risk of severe Covid.”

The researchers said budesonide could be rolled out quickly because it is cheap, widely available and has very few side effects. One inhaler costs just £14.

All patients enrolled in the Principal trial were aged over 50 with an underlying health condition that put them at a higher risk of serious Covid, or aged over 65.

Patients were asked to inhale 800 micrograms twice a day for 14 days and were followed-up for 28 days.

The study also showed that just 8.5 per cent of the budesonide group were hospitalised within 28 days, compared with 10.3 per cent of the control group - a 17 per cent decrease - although the researchers said it was difficult to tell if the effect was real because cases were dropping in Britain during the trial.

Joint chief investigator Professor Richard Hobbs, Head of Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, said the results were a “significant milestone” in the pandemic.

“Unlike other proven treatments, budesonide is effective as a treatment at home and during the early stages of the illness. This is a significant milestone for this pandemic and a major achievement for community-based research.”


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