Health Highlights: June 16, 2020

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Steroid Reduces COVID-19 Death Risk by Up to One-Third: Researchers

The cheap and widely available steroid dexamethasone reduced the risk of death among seriously ill COVID-19 patients by up to a third, according to researchers in England.

They compared more than 2,100 hospitalized patients who received the drug orally or through IV with more than 4,300 who received usual care.

After 28 days, the drug reduced deaths by 35% in patients who were on breathing machines and by 20% in those only requiring supplemental oxygen, but the drug didn't appear to help patients with less serious illness, the Associated Press reported.

The findings were released Tuesday and the researchers said they'd soon publish the study.

"This is an extremely welcome result," study co- leader Peter Horby, University of Oxford, said in a statement, the AP reported.

"The survival benefit is clear and large in those patients who are sick enough to require oxygen treatment, so dexamethasone should now become standard of care in these patients. Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide," Horby said.

While the drug's benefits appear limited to patients with severe illness, "countless lives will be saved globally," Nick Cammack of Wellcome, a charity that supports science research, told the AP.

"Dexamethasone must now be rolled out and accessed by thousands of critically ill patients around the world," said Cammack, who was not involved in the study. "It is highly affordable, easy to make, can be scaled up quickly and only needs a small dosage."

Steroid drugs reduce inflammation, which can occur in COVID-19 patients as their immune system overreacts to fight infection with the new coronavirus. This overreaction can be deadly, so steroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs are being tested in such patients, the AP reported.

However, the World Health Organization advises against the use steroids in the early stages of COVID-19 because they can extend the time it takes patients to clear the coronavirus.


Black Americans Much More Likely to Have Lost Loved Ones to COVID-19

Black Americans are much more likely than other Americans to say a relative or close friend has died of COVID-19, surveys reveal.

While 11% of black adults say someone close to them has died, the rates are 5% among Americans overall and 4% among whites, the Associated Press reported.

The racial differences are especially significant in some cities and states hit especially hard by the new coronavirus. In Louisiana, 16% of black adults say someone close to them has died, compared with 6% of white adults.

Blacks represent about 33% of the state's population but account for 53% of the state's nearly 3,000 COVID-19 deaths, state health department data show, the AP reported.

The surveys also showed that 14% of black adults in Atlanta say a family member or close friend has died of COVID-19, compared with 4% of white adults. The rates are 12% vs. 4% in Baltimore, 15% vs. 2% in Birmingham, Alabama, and 12% vs. 4% in Chicago.

In New York City, 26% of black adults say a family member or close friend has died from COVID-19, compared with 10% of white adults, according to the three COVID-19 impact surveys conducted between April and June by NORC at the University of Chicago for the Data Foundation.

Experts say reasons why black Americans have been particularly susceptible to COVID-19 include pre-existing conditions and limited access to health care, the AP reported.

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