Statins may reduce mortality in influenza patients, team finds

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The two most common weapons to fight influenza are an annual immunization and the use of antiviral drugs. A team of investigators has found that statins — a drug widely used to lower cholesterol — may offer additional benefits that complement these approaches and reduces mortality among patients with influenza.

The researchers used data for hospitalized adults during the 2007-2008 influenza season to evaluate the association between patients prescribed statins and influenza-related deaths. The data were drawn from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Emerging Infections Program, which conducts active surveillance for patients hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza in 59 counties in 10 states, including New Haven County in Connecticut.

Among 3,043 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 almost twice as likely to die from influenza as those who did receive the medication.

The findings are the first published observational study that evaluates the relationship between statin use and mortality in hospitalized patients with laboratory-confirmed influenza virus infection.

“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 study authors wrote. 

The findings are published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases and are now available online. James Meek, associate director of the Connecticut Emerging Infections Program at Yale School of Public Health, contributed to the study. The program is one of 10 CDC-funded centers in the United States conducting active population-based surveillance for patients hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza infections. 

Because the study was observational, the authors noted there may have been confounding factors that were not found through the review of patients’ charts. Researchers also did not attempt to track the amount of statin use by patients during their entire hospital stay. Randomized controlled trials would best address the potential benefits of statins for influenza treatment, the researchers concluded, and “would allow for examination of such issues as dose response, use in younger age groups, and identifying the most effective class of statins.”

Researchers from each of the 10 Emerging Infections Programs around the country contributed to the study. The study was led by Meredith L. Vandermeer, of the Oregon Public Health Division in Portland.

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