Dexamethasone for COVID-19? Not so fast

J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2020 Jul-Aug,;34(3):1241-1243. doi: 10.23812/20-EDITORIAL_1-5.


Recent announcements indicated, without sharing any distinct published set of results, that the corticosteroid dexamethasone may reduce mortality of severe COVID-19 patients only. The recent Coronavirus [severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-CoV-2]-associated multiorgan disease, called COVID-19, has high morbidity and mortality due to autoimmune destruction of the lungs stemming from the release of a storm of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Defense against this Corona virus requires activated T cells and specific antibodies. Instead, cytokines are responsible for the serious sequelae of COVID-19 that damage the lungs. Dexamethasone is a synthetic corticosteroid approved by the FDA 1958 as a broad-spectrum immunosuppressor and it is about 30 times as active and with longer duration of action (2-3 days) than cortisone. Dexamethasone would limit the production of and damaging effect of the cytokines, but will also inhibit the protective function of T cells and block B cells from making antibodies, potentially leading to increased plasma viral load that will persist after a patient survives SARS. Moreover, dexamethasone would block macrophages from clearing secondary, nosocomial, infections. Hence, dexamethasone may be useful for the short-term in severe, intubated, COVID-19 patients, but could be outright dangerous during recovery since the virus will not only persist, but the body will be prevented from generating protective antibodies. Instead, a pulse of intravenous dexamethasone may be followed by administration of nebulized triamcinolone (6 times as active as cortisone) to concentrate in the lungs only. These corticosteroids could be given together with the natural flavonoid luteolin because of its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, especially its ability to inhibit mast cells, which are the main source of cytokines in the lungs. At the end, we should remember that "The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease" [Sir William Osler's (1849-1919)].

Keywords: COVID-19; Dexamethasone; SARS-CoV-2; nebulized triamcinolone; pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Publication types

  • Editorial

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / drug therapy*
  • Dexamethasone / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / drug therapy*
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Dexamethasone

Supplementary concepts

  • COVID-19 drug treatment