The inhaled asthma drug Budesonide helps people with COVID-19 recover three days faster at home, according to a new study.

A trial in people over 65, and over 50 with underlying health conditions, found that inhaling budesonide twice a day for two weeks shortened their recovery time and helped them stay well and feel better than those who were not given the drug in subsequent weeks.

The interim results from the Principle trial, which is looking for treatments that can be used in the community rather than hospital, could change clinical practice around the world, say the researchers. In many countries, fewer hospital beds are available for Covid patients, making it important to treat as many people at home as possible.

Fewer people in the trial were admitted to hospital among those given the inhaled corticosteroid drug – 8.5% compared with 10.3% who had usual therapies – but that was at a time of falling hospital admissions so the effect is not clear, the scientists say. Their paper is published as a pre-print, which means it has not yet been through peer review.

The study “has found evidence that a relatively cheap, widely available drug with very few side-effects helps people at higher risk of worse outcomes from Covid-19 recover quicker, stay better once they feel recovered, and improves their wellbeing,” said its joint chief investigator Chris Butler, a south Wales GP and professor of primary care at Oxford University.

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