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The statins-for-flu study that the press missed

While researchers are calling for studies to evaluate the effectiveness of the cholesterol lowering drugs known as statins for reducing influenza-associated deaths, one such study is just getting underway, largely on volunteerism and shoestring funding.

Newspapers reported yesterday (e.g. here, here and here) from the 2009 Infectious Diseases Society of America meeting in Philadelphia that statin use appears to be associated with a lower death rate from influenza. Using data from the 2007-2008 flu season, researchers reviewed charts from 2,800 lab-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations. More than 800 of these individuals were taking statins at the time. Meredith VanderMeer of the Oregon Public Health Division and her colleagues found that 2.1% of patients taking statins died within a month of being hospitalized for the flu, while 3.2% who were not taking statins died.

Statins have been suggested before as a potential alternative to antiviral drugs like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza), which are more expensive and have the potential to run out in a severe pandemic. Statins may reduce the effects of the virus by dampening the immune response.

Several observational studies like the one reported today have suggested a protective effect. At a press teleconference, VanderMeer suggested that double-blind, placebo-controlled studies be carried out in a hospital setting. I haven’t seen anyone report that one such study has already begun. Gordon Bernard at Vanderbilt University is studying the effects of rosuvastatin (Crestor) in patients hospitalized with the flu. It’s a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study and the researchers recruited their first patient this week, Bernard told Nature.

Finding the funding for such a study has been difficult. But, Bernard realized that the current H1N1 pandemic presents an unprecedented opportunity to study this intervention. “We’ve never seen this kind of thing happen with so many patients with severe symptom,.” he says.

In August, he and his collaborators decided to begin working on a volunteer basis to get the study underway, including getting all the necessary approvals. Astra Zeneca, which manufactures Crestor, agreed to provide medication and placebo, but would not fund that the study. “We’re still working as a volunteer group and continuing to put feelers out in every way we can,” Bernard says.

As for the positive press for statins, Bernard calls it something of a double-edged sword. “It lends credence to the idea that we should have a randomized trial,” he says, but “It also makes it difficult at the bedside.” As patients hear more about statins possibly being effective, it can complicate recruitment into placebo-controlled studies, he says.

Declan Butler contributed to the reporting of this story.


  1. Report this comment

    Carter Russell said:

    I’m disappointed you guys decided to play up this article. Drug manufacturers are in a panic to justify statins as public opinion is turning against them rapidly. Statins have an NNT of 100 and fully seventeen percent of people taking them suffer adverse side effects. (Business Week did a great article on the statins in January 2008.)

    As for the study itself, there are many more logical explanations having nothing to do with statins (or only tangentially).

    (1) This flu is more dangerous for the young than the old. Older people are the ones taking statins.

    (2) Those taking statins are the types more likely to be hypochondriacs or otherwise overly attendant to minor illness. It would not require much of a logical leap to suspect those on statins were more likely to check into the hospital than those not on statins.

    I believe that one day Americans will come to the see statins as a bigger scam than Bernie Madoff. Thus the desperation by the drug manufacturers to find a true reason for people to take them.

  2. Report this comment

    Emanuel said:

    There are too many physiological variables associated with the use of statins. Apart from the numerous side effects, statins interfere and block numerous body functions that rely heavily on cholesterol availablity such as steroid production, calcium metabolism, digestion, squalene, CoQ10 synthesis, the production of bile, digestion and many others. The depletion of cholesterol by statins is responsible for numerous iatrogenic casualties which is the result of the medical industry damaging and killing the masses prematurely.

    Medical research should be homeostatic and biochemistry based, but the drug companies’ research teams base their product research on invasive, destructive and disruptive biochemistry that aims to make the largest return for minimum cost and the least healing capacity. To claim that statins protect against the flu seems rather far fetched and a desperate attempt by the drug companies to salvage what is recognised as one of the biggest medical scams in the history of mankind.

    It’s about time these big pharmacriminals were brought to book for pulling the wool over the eyes of nearly every government on earth. Considering that the UN, WHO, and the Bilderbergers have been working diligently to anihilate us, I am not suprised that once an attempt to cull the masses fails they soon concoct other means to do away with us all.

    I wonder what they will try next? Maybe put spent uranium in our GE food and tell us it’s a dietary radiation supplement for the prevention of cancer!!



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