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Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs Tied to Flu Survival

Study: People Taking Statins Are Less Likely to Die From Influenza
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Should Statins Be Tested Against the Flu? continued...

Kwong has also studied statin use in people who get the flu. He was not involved in the current research, though he says it is well done.

He says his own experience suggests that other factors were probably behind the drugs’ supposed benefits.

“The people who receive statins are just inherently different from people who don’t receive statins,” he says.

One example that’s often seen in studies of this kind is something called the health user effect. People who take preventive medications like statins may simply be more interested in taking care of their health than people who don’t take them. That could also mean they are in better overall health and are therefore less likely to die of the flu.

Researchers say they couldn’t find any evidence of the healthy user effect in this study.

Kwong says it would be impossible to account for every possible difference that could skew the results.

“The statistical methods we have are generally inadequate to remove the [outside influences] that are there,” he tells WebMD.

How Statins May Fight the Flu

Still, infectious disease experts say it makes some biological sense that statins might make the flu less lethal.

When the flu virus attacks, it can damage the body on two fronts. There’s the direct damage caused when the virus kills off cells. Then there’s the misery caused by the body’s own response to the infection, which can cause dangerously high fevers and swelling of tissues.

Statins are known to have anti-inflammatory effects that may dampen the body’s response to the virus.

If used with drugs that stymie the ability of the virus to infect cells, experts say the treatment could potentially deal the flu a potent one-two punch.

“In combination with antiviral drugs, maybe it would be a real advance,” says Edward E. Walsh, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine in New York.

In an editorial on the study, he agrees that a clinical trial is needed to answer important questions.

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