Background: In the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, there has been worldwide debate on the use of corticosteroids in COVID-19. In the recent RECOVERY trial, evaluating the effect of dexamethasone, a reduced 28-day mortality in patients requiring oxygen therapy or mechanical ventilation was shown. Their results have led to considering amendments in guidelines or actually already recommending corticosteroids in COVID-19. However, the effectiveness and safety of corticosteroids still remain uncertain, and reliable data to further shed light on the benefit and harm are needed.
Objectives: The aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of corticosteroids in COVID-19.
Methods: A systematic literature search of RCTS and observational studies on adult patients was performed across Medline/PubMed, Embase and Web of Science from December 1, 2019, until October 1, 2020, according to the PRISMA guidelines. Primary outcomes were short-term mortality and viral clearance (based on RT-PCR in respiratory specimens). Secondary outcomes were: need for mechanical ventilation, need for other oxygen therapy, length of hospital stay and secondary infections.
Results: Forty-four studies were included, covering 20.197 patients. In twenty-two studies, the effect of corticosteroid use on mortality was quantified. The overall pooled estimate (observational studies and RCTs) showed a significant reduced mortality in the corticosteroid group (OR 0.72 (95%CI 0.57-0.87). Furthermore, viral clearance time ranged from 10 to 29 days in the corticosteroid group and from 8 to 24 days in the standard of care group. Fourteen studies reported a positive effect of corticosteroids on need for and duration of mechanical ventilation. A trend toward more infections and antibiotic use was present.
Conclusions: Our findings from both observational studies and RCTs confirm a beneficial effect of corticosteroids on short-term mortality and a reduction in need for mechanical ventilation. And although data in the studies were too sparse to draw any firm conclusions, there might be a signal of delayed viral clearance and an increase in secondary infections.