Henry Ford Health System Researchers Find Steroid Aids COVID-19 Recovery

Researchers at Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System saw promising results in March when they used corticosteroids to treat patients early in the COVID-19 pandemic in metro Detroit, according to new research data.
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Henry Ford Health System researchers have found that treating COVID-19 patients early on with methylprednisolone reduced the length and severity of sickness. // Stock photo

Researchers at Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System saw promising results in March when they used corticosteroids to treat patients early in the COVID-19 pandemic in metro Detroit, according to new research data.

In a study published in May 2020 in Clinical Infectious Disease, the publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, Henry Ford experts found the early use of methylprednisolone, or Medrol, prevented more patients from being admitted to the intensive care unit, being intubated and put on a ventilator, and dying.

The FDA-approved anti-inflammatory drug typically is used to decrease immune response that results in swelling, pain, and allergic-type reactions. It’s most commonly used to treat blood disorders; arthritis; severe allergic reactions; certain cancers; eye conditions; diseases of the skin, kidney, intestines, or lung; and immune system disorders.

“We found that use of methylprednisolone early in hospitalization can beneficially affect the body’s immune reaction and systemic inflammatory responses – the cytokine storm – in COVID-19,” says Dr. Mayur Ramesh, study author and senior staff physician in the Henry Ford Health System division of infectious disease at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

The study looked at 213 patients who were admitted to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit for COVID-19 early in the pandemic. It compares 81 patients admitted between March 10 and March 19 to 132 patients admitted between March 20 and March 27. The later patients received the steroid protocol, which was implemented on March 20.

The patients treated with a three-day methylprednisolone protocol implemented spent less time in the hospital (five days versus eight days) and were less likely to be admitted to the ICU (27 percent versus 44 percent), being placed on a ventilator (22 percent versus 37 percent), or dying (14 percent versus 26 percent).

The study used a different steroid than dexamethasone, a medication used in Oxford University’s RECOVERY trial, which had similar positive results in treating COVID-19 patients in the United Kingdom.

“In the RECOVERY trial, the steroid dexamethasone had a mortality benefit in patients who are severely ill,” Ramesh says. “In our trial, early use of the steroid methylprednisolone prevented patients from getting to the severe stages of COVID-19, therefore reducing mortality. So, it seems there may be appropriate use for both in different stages of the virus. But early use of methylprednisolone seems to help avoid progression of illness altogether.”

The Detroit study researchers pointed out that three days of early corticosteroids were administered to patients two days into their hospitalization and eight days from symptom onset. However, this administration later in the disease – five days after hospitalization – did not seem to produce the same benefit.

“It seems to be crucial for patients with COVID-19 symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, to receive corticosteroid early in hospitalization to prevent ICU admission and death,” Ramesh says.

In addition to this study, Henry Ford medical teams have used a combination of Remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, Interlukin 6, convalescent plasma, proning, and other measures to provide treatment for COVID-19.

“Caregivers like Dr. Ramesh have been integral to pushing science forward in the treatment of COVID-19,” says Dr. Steven Kalkanis, CEO of the Henry Ford Medical Group and senior vice president and chief academic officer for Henry Ford Health System. “They have saved lives, there is no doubt about it.”

Henry Ford Health System has six hospitals, a health plan, and more than 250 sites. It has 32,000 employees and is home to the 1,900-member Henry Ford Medical Group, one of the nation’s oldest physician groups.

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