Cholesterol Drugs May Help Fight Influenza

Kate H. Gamble, Senior Editor
Published Online: Friday, December 16, 2011
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Statins, the drugs used to manage high cholesterol levels, may prove useful in combating serious influenza cases, according to findings published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Researchers found that among 3043 hospitalized patients with laboratory-confirmed influenza, 33% were given statin medications prior to or during hospitalization. After adjusting for various factors, patients not receiving statins were 41% less likely to die from influenza as those who did receive the medication.

“Our study found that statins were associated with a decrease in odds of dying among cases hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza, when adjusted for age, race, cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease, renal disease, influenza vaccine receipt, and initiation of antivirals within 48 hours of admission,” the authors wrote.

For the study, L. Vandermeer, MPH, then with the Oregon Public Health Division in Portland, and colleagues used data for hospitalized adults during the 2007-2008 flu season to evaluate the association between patients prescribed statins and influenza-related deaths. The data was drawn from the CDC’s Emerging Infections Program, which conducts active surveillance for patients hospitalized with confirmed influenza in 59 counties in 10 states.

The study is the first of its kind to investigate a possible relationship between statins and deaths from the flu.

It did, however, have some limitations. Because it was observational, the authors noted that there may have been additional factors that were not taken into account. Researchers did not attempt to track the amount of statin use by patients during their entire hospital stay, and they were not able to determine whether patients taking statins were already healthier than those not taking the drugs.

Randomized controlled trials are needed to fully clarify the potential benefits of statins for influenza treatment, they noted.

“At this point, statins should not become the standard of care for people hospitalized with the flu,” said study co-author Ann Thomas, MD, MPH, a public health physician with the Oregon Public Health Division in Portland. “We would like to see more studies.”

At this time, preventive vaccinations and antiviral medications are still the best weapons against influenza.

In an accompanying editorial, Edward E. Walsh, MD, of Rochester General Hospital in Rochester, NY, noted that there have been previous observational studies suggesting statins may reduce mortality from influenza and pneumonia.

One of the study’s key strengths, he said, “is that only patients with laboratory-confirmed influenza were included in the analysis.”

Although further research is needed to evaluate the use of statins against influenza, the results of the study do appear to be promising, the authors concluded.


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