Death by pneumonia could be avoided by taking statins, a study by a group of epidemiologists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has revealed.
The research, published in the online edition of the BMJ, indicates that the risk of death from pneumonia during the six-month period after diagnosis is significantly lower among patients who are taking the cholesterol-lowerting drugs than those who do not.
Previous studies have suggested that statins may help prevent death after bacterial infection, while this research, funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, supports a possible protective effect of statins against mortality in patients with pneumonia.
But because the researchers acknowledge that they examined patients who were already taking the medication when they developed pneumonia, they believe a randomised clinical trial is needed to determine whether beginning a course of statin treatment after diagnosis has a similar effect.
The research team analysed data from The Health Improvement Network, a database of computerised medical records of UK doctors’ practices to identify appropriate statin users for the study. They matched each statin user, aged over 40 at first prescription of a statin between 1995 and 2006, with up to five non-statin users.
Patients with pneumonia were followed for six months to see if they died and the scientists found that 109 out of 847 (13%) of statin users died compared with 578 out of 2927 (20%) of non-statin users.
Lead author Dr Ian Douglas said: “Given the potential low number needed to treat to prevent a death suggested by this study, we believe that a strong case exists for randomised trials of statins in people with serious infection to determine if a simple and practical intervention at the point of diagnosis of pneumonia has a beneficial effect.”
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