Statins may cut pneumonia deaths: study

Statin drugs used to lower cholesterol levels and, to a lesser extent, ACE inhibitors used to lower blood pressure, may reduce mortality in older adults who are hospitalized for pneumonia, research suggests.

In the study, reported in the European Respiratory Journal, pneumonia sufferers who were on statins or ACE inhibitors had a reduced 30-day mortality of 46 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Exactly how these agents may achieve this effect is unclear, although recent research has suggested that their use cuts the risk of death from various infections.

In an E-mail with Reuters Health, study chief Dr. Eric M. Mortensen noted that his team’s study is not the first to look at the impact of statin use on the outcome of pneumonia. However, he added that it is the largest to date in terms of both subjects and number of hospitals and it is also the first, to his knowledge, that tried to examine whether statin use might be protective against flu by examining pneumonia cases inside and outside of influenza season.

The principal finding - that statins cut pneumonia-related death - was consistent with most prior studies and, therefore, was not unexpected, according to Mortensen, a researcher at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

What was surprising was that statin use seemed to reduce mortality during influenza season, he said. “Our research group has some evidence for why patients with bacterial pneumonia would benefit (not yet published), but no animal/lab studies have shown a similar benefit for influenza.”

The study is based on an analysis of data from the Department of Veterans Affairs that included 8652 people who were at least 65 years of age and were hospitalized with pneumonia.

Roughly 10 percent of them died in the first month after catching pneumonia, the report indicates. Overall, 18 percent of subjects were statin users and 34 percent were ACE inhibitor users.

Based on this study and others, statin users who are hospitalized for an infectious disease should continue to take their statin unless there is a direct contraindication, Mortensen emphasized. He added that his group is now planning a randomized controlled trial to investigate the benefit of starting statin therapy in patients admitted for pneumonia.

SOURCE: European Respiratory Journal, March 2008.

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