(CBS) Statins are taken each day by millions of Americans to lower their cholesterol and heart attack risk. A new study suggests the drugs could benefit an entirely different set of people - patients hospitalized with the flu.
The study found patients hospitalized with severe cases of influenza reduced their risk of dying in half by taking statins.
For the study, published in the Dec. 14 issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases, researchers examined data on 3,000 patients who were hospitalized during the 2007-2008 flu season in 10 states. Thirty-three percent of the patients were given statins, while the rest were given other antiviral medications. The researchers found patients who weren't treated with statins were twice as likely to die.
Should statins become part of the standard flu treatment?
"In combination with antiviral drugs, maybe it would be a real advance," Dr. Edward E. Walsh, professor of medicine at the University of Rochester in New York who was not involved with the study, told WebMD.
The study authors say more research is needed to determine how long a flu patient should take statins to show this protective effect, since most statin therapies are long term.
"At this point, statins should not become the standard of care for people hospitalized with the flu," study co-author Dr. Ann Thomas, a public health physician with the Oregon Public Health Division in Portland, told HealthDay. "We would like to see more studies."
Other experts were just plain dubious.
"At the end of the day, I'm not convinced that statins are protective," against influenza, Dr. Jeffrey C. Kwong, a reseacher with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Science in Toronto, told WebMD.
Kwong said other factors may have been at play among the statin-takers. Perhaps they may have been more health-conscious than other flu patients because they were preventively treating their cholesterol, he said.
Studies estimate that between 3,000 and 49,000 Americans die from flu-related complications each year, with most deaths occurring among elderly patients. The CDC recommends anyone over 6 months old to get a flu vaccine.
The CDC has more on the seasonal flu.