People who use statin drugs are less likely to die of influenza and chronic bronchitis, according to a study that shows yet another unexpected benefit of the cholesterol-lowering medications.
Their study of more than 76,000 people showed that those who had taken statins for at least 90 days had a much lower risk of dying from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, the technical name for emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Patients on statins also had a lower risk of dying from influenza or pneumonia, the researchers reported Monday.
Statins -- which include Pfizer Inc.'s $10 billion-a-year Lipitor, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Pravachol and Merck and Co. Inc.'s Zocor -- are the world's best-selling drugs, taken by millions to reduce the risk of heart attack.
The new study supports a theory proposed last year that statin drugs might help patients with H5N1 avian influenza, which some studies suggest kills by causing an immune system overreaction called a cytokine storm.
Floyd Frost of the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and colleagues analyzed their institute's database of medical records from several health maintenance organizations.
They looked at incidence of influenza and pneumonia and of COPD, and then cross-checked to see which patients were also taking statins.
"This study found a dramatically reduced risk of death from COPD among statin users and a significantly reduced risk of death from influenza/pneumonia," the researchers wrote in their report, published in the journal Chest.
"These findings suggest that moderate-dose statin use reduces the risk of influenza/pneumonia death and strongly suggest that statins reduce the risk of COPD death."
In 2006, researchers in Canada reported that statins act against sepsis, a dangerous blood infection, and a 2005 study found the death rate was 64 percent lower in pneumonia patients who had been taking statins.