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Dexamethasone can't prevent COVID-19 infection, warns ICPA

The Independent Community Pharmacy Association of South Africa (ICPA) has raised the alarm after reports that people were buying dexamethasone to try and protect themselves against COVID-19.

A pharmacist holds a box of dexamethasone tablets at a pharmacy in London on 16 June 2020. The steroid dexamethasone was shown to be the first drug to significantly reduce the risk of death among severe COVID-19 cases, in trial results hailed as a 'major breakthrough' in the fight against the disease. Picture: AFP

CAPE TOWN - The Independent Community Pharmacy Association has raised alarm over the use of dexamethasone to prevent COVID-19.

Use of the steroid has been hailed as a breakthrough in the treatment of severely ill COVID-19 patients being treated in ICU.

Oxford University's randomised recovery trial recently found the drug saves one in three patients on ventilators.

Dexamethasone is used to treat diseases caused by an overactive immune response such as allergies, asthma and other autoimmune diseases.

It's now proven to be effective in the treatment of COVID-19 patients receiving oxygen therapy and those on ventilators.

The steroid is saving one in five patients receiving oxygen.

However, Independent Community Pharmacy Association CEO, Jacky Maimin, warns against people buying dexamethasone to try to protect themselves against contracting COVID-19.

“It cannot be used to prevent COVID-19, in fact, it can have the opposite effect because it tempers down your immune system, it reduces inflammation and your immune response. It’s the worst thing you can do if you’re trying to prevent yourself from the virus.”

The health ministry said some clinicians were already using the steroid to treat severely ill COVID-19 patients in South Africa.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has indicated at least 300,000 dexamethasone ampoules are available.

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