Your cholesterol drug might help you weather the flu

Data suggest illness is less likely to be fatal in those taking statins

PHILADELPHIA — Statin drugs, prescribed to keep high cholesterol in check, may also offer partial protection against the ravages of influenza, a study suggests.

A team of researchers reviewed the records of roughly 2,800 patients age 18 or older from 10 states who came down with laboratory-confirmed flu during the 2007–2008 flu season. About 30 percent were taking a statin drug.

During that season, there were 17 deaths in the statin group and 64 deaths in people not using statins. After accounting for differences between the groups in age, race and cardiovascular health, the researchers found that people getting statins were about half as likely to die from the flu, says Meredith Vandermeer,an epidemiologist in Oregon’s Public Health Division in Portland. Vandermeer presented the findings October 29 during a meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

In addition to their better-known suppression of LDL, the bad cholesterol, statins have been shown to quell inflammation in cardiovascular disease. “But it’s not really been looked at in infectious diseases,” Vandermeer says. In severe cases of the flu, lung inflammation can precipitate pneumonia.

“If you’re on statins for cholesterol, there may be some extra benefits,” says Andrew Pavia, a pediatrician at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. But he cautions that this study looked only at patients’ ability to survive flu that required hospitalization and offers no evidence that statins played a clear biological role in that survival. Further research is needed to ascertain whether the drugs indeed offer a protective mechanism against flu, he says.

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