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Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs Tied to Flu Survival

Study: People Taking Statins Are Less Likely to Die From Influenza

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.

“The drugs are relatively safe to give,” he says. But because most people are on statins long-term, it’s not known whether giving them to someone soon after they are diagnosed will do any good.

“The question is whether they could be effective in that setting where you administer them right away,” Walsh says.

Preventing flu deaths has long been a public health priority. According to the CDC, studies estimate that between 3,000 and 49,000 people in the U.S. -- many of them elderly -- die each year from complications of the flu.

Thomas says in years where the flu vaccine is in short supply or isn’t well matched to the circulating flu strains, or when the virus proves resistant to antiviral medications, it’s important to have other treatment options.

“It would sort of be appealing to have another tool in the toolbox,” she says.

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