Study: Cholesterol drugs may improve flu survival

Oct 29, 2009 By MARILYNN MARCHIONE , AP Medical Writer

(AP) -- A new treatment for swine flu may already be on pharmacy shelves - cholesterol-lowering statin drugs like Lipitor and Zocor.

A large study found that people who were taking these drugs when they caught seasonal and had to be hospitalized were twice as likely to survive than those who were not on such medicines.

This doesn't prove that statins can cure flu, or that starting on them after catching the flu would help. A federal study is under way now to test that. Doctors are optimistic, because previous studies also found that statins may improve survival from infectious diseases.

"It's very promising," said the new study's leader, Dr. Ann Thomas of the Oregon Public Health Division. Results were discussed Thursday at an Society of America conference in Philadelphia.

"It's intriguing and exciting," and the benefit seen from statins is "substantial," said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University doctor whose hospital in Nashville, Tenn., was involved in the research.

"There are relatively few downsides to trying statins," which are cheap, relatively safe, and already among the most widely used medicines in the world, he said.

Treatment is a crucial issue for because vaccine is slow to reach the public, and flu medicines like Tamiflu are being reserved for only the sickest patients.

Statins have long been known to reduce inflammation along with cholesterol. Much of the damage that flu causes, whether it's seasonal or the new H1N1 virus, is from inflammation and an overreaction by the immune system as it fights the virus.

Earlier studies found that statins improved survival from pneumonia and serious bacterial bloodstream infections. The new research, sponsored by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the first large one in the United States to look at statins for flu.

It involved 2,800 people hospitalized with lab-confirmed seasonal flu in 10 states in 2007-2008. Medical records show that 801 received statins in the hospital. They probably were just continuing the treatment they had been taking before catching the flu, though researchers don't know this for sure.

More than 3 percent of those not taking statins died in the hospital or in the following month. The rate was half that among statin users, even though they were more likely to have underlying health problems like heart disease. Researchers took other factors such as age into account and still saw the same benefit from statin use.

"It's an important study," said Dr. Andrew Pavia, a pediatrics professor at the University of Utah and head of the infectious disease society's pandemic flu task force. He said he now places a high priority on testing statins as a treatment.

"It gives us a pretty cost-effective tool if it works," he said.

There might be justification for trying these drugs now in certain patients not doing well on any other treatment, said Dr. Ronald Turner of the University of Virginia, a prominent virologist who had no role in the new study.

"If you get yourself to the point where you don't have anything to offer and things are going poorly for the patient, then maybe to try something on a speculative note is appropriate," he said.

The statin study is the second piece of good news on the treatment front in a week. Last Friday, the federal Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of the experimental drug peramivir as a swine flu treatment.

Recent results from an Asian study showed that a single intravenous dose of peramivir (purr-AM-uh-veer) cleared up flu symptoms as effectively as five days of pills. Some very sick patients need IV treatments because they can't swallow pills or absorb the medicine well.

BioCryst Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Birmingham, Ala., is developing peramivir with Japan-based Shionogi & Co.

Statins are available in generic form and also sold as Lipitor by Pfizer Inc.; Zocor by Merck & Co.; Crestor by AstraZeneca PLC, and Pravachol by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., among others.

On the Net: Conference: www.idsociety.org/IDSA2009.htm

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: Feds vows to publicize vaccine injury help program

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Statins don't lower risk of pneumonia in elderly

Jun 17, 2009

Taking popular cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, such as Lipitor (atorvastatin), does not lower the risk of pneumonia. That's the new finding from a study of more than 3,000 Group Health patients published online on June ...

Flu drug advised for pregnant women with swine flu

May 12, 2009

(AP) -- Pregnant women should take prescription flu medicines if they are diagnosed with the new swine flu, health officials said Tuesday. So far, the swine flu has not proven to be much more dangerous than seasonal influenza, ...

Recommended for you

US approves new, hard-to-abuse hydrocodone pill (Update)

Nov 20, 2014

U.S. government health regulators on Thursday approved the first hard-to-abuse version of the painkiller hydrocodone, offering an alternative to a similar medication that has been widely criticized for lacking ...

Soaring generic drug prices draw Senate scrutiny

Nov 20, 2014

Some low-cost generic drugs that have helped restrain health care costs for decades are seeing unexpected price spikes of up to 8,000 percent, prompting a backlash from patients, pharmacists and now Washington ...

Only half of patients take their medications as prescribed

Nov 20, 2014

The cost of patients not taking their medications as prescribed can be substantial in terms of their health. Although a large amount of research evidence has tried to address this problem, there are no well-established ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.