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News of the Day ... In Perspective

12/2/2006

Statin drugs: potential use in influenza suggested; adverse-effects survey launched

Three eminent influenza researchers say that statin drugs are potentially a crucial weapon in combating a pandemic.

A recent study has shown that an extreme immune system response called a cytokine storm was responsible for many of the deaths in the 1918 influenza pandemic. More than half the deaths were in healthy young adults.

Studies of patients who were taking statin drugs to lower cholesterol, who then contracted pneumonia or bacteremia, suggest that the drugs reduced mortality rates.

If effective against influenza, statin drugs would have major advantages as they can be cheaply mass produced. Research funding, however, has not been made available for the necessary studies.

Signatories to a letter to the Times (London) arguing for urgent studies included David Fedson, a retired professor of medicine from the University of Virginia; Susan Chu, editor of the website www.fluwikie.com; and Peter Dunnill, Professor of Biochemical Engineering at University College London (Times 10/24/06).

While there are many proponents of widespread statin use to combat coronary artery disease, some are concerned that side effects are underestimated. The FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System (AERS) probably only picks up a fraction of drug side effects, particularly since the implementation of “procedural” changes that make it less likely for “non serious” events to be entered into the data base.

Many patients call her office to report statin side effects, states Dr. Beatrice Golomb of the University of California at San Diego. “They say ‘My doctor won’t listen to me or my doctor says it can’t be related to the drugs.’” Muscle aches and cognitive problems are frequently attributed to aging. Therefore, Dr. Golomb created the Statin Effects Survey site (www.statineffects.com). The survey is attempting to collect information from 3,000 patients (Tara Parker-Pope, Wall St J 10/3/06).

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