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Why make international news out of 9 vague patient reports on remdesivir?

Gary Schwitzer is the founder and publisher of HealthNewsReview. He has covered health care news almost exclusively since 1973. Here is his online bio.  He tweets as @garyschwitzer or as @HealthNewsRevu.

The Reuters headline blared, “One in three South Korean COVID-19 patients improve with remdesivir.”  The first sentence of the story repeated that number: “One in three South Korean patients seriously ill with COVID-19 showed an improvement in their condition after being given Gilead Sciences Inc’s antiviral remdesivir, health authorities said.”

One in three.  Was that 1,000 out of 3,000?  100 out of 300?

No.  It was 9 out of 27. Nine who “showed an improvement in their condition.”  An unspecified degree of improvement.  What about the other 18 patients?

15 showed no change and three worsened.

Besides the small numbers, there are other reasons to question the international newsworthiness of the vaguely described improvements for the 9 patients.

The story acknowledged some of these:

“More research was needed to determine if the improvement was attributable to the drug or other factors such as patients’ immunity and other therapies”

“Gilead…cautioned that rigorous clinical trials were needed to confirm the benefit.”

“The result had yet to be compared with a control group and more analysis was needed to conclude remdesivir’s benefit.”

It’s also important to note that the news came from a briefing – not from a peer-reviewed or published journal article. And the group of patients were treated at different hospitals.  We can’t know whether the metrics – the assessments of “improvement” – were the same across these different hospitals.

Reuters is an international news agency.  The story was picked up by The New York Times, The Washington Post, US News & World Report and Yahoo News.

My advice:  Slow down.  Wait for details.  There was no reason to rush this news from South Korea.

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