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Coronavirus: Can Statins Reduce the Risk of Death?

Hospitalization of Covid-19 patients with statins could reduce the risk of death or connection to a ventilator, a study suggests.

Chinese researchers found that given the cholesterol-lowering drugs – which can only cost pennies – critically ill patients were up to 45 percent less likely to die.

And data showed that statins reduce the risk of patients needing mechanical ventilation, being admitted to intensive care, or becoming a deadly complication.

Doctors are desperate for more weapons in their arsenal to treat Covid-19, which has killed nearly 500,000 people worldwide in just six months.

Only one drug – £ 5 steroid dexamethasone – has been proven to increase survival rates for hospitalized coronavirus patients so far.

Dozens of other drugs are being tested in Britain and around the world, hoping to save lives and bring the world back to normal.

Scientists behind the statin study at Wuhan University – located in the Chinese city where the pandemic started in December – called for more trials to prove the link.

Chinese researchers found that, given the cholesterol-lowering drugs - which can only cost pennies - critically ill patients were up to 45 percent less likely to die

Chinese researchers found that, given the cholesterol-lowering drugs – which can only cost pennies – critically ill patients were up to 45 percent less likely to die

A wealth of research has found that the pills – taken by an estimated 6 million Britons with high ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol – save lives from heart attacks and strokes.

But statins are controversial in the medical community for their potential side effects, including muscle pain and memory loss.

Doctors are desperate for ways to treat Covid-19, studies conducted worldwide have suggested that up to 1 percent of all infected cases are killed.

Statins have been shown to slow the progression of lung injuries in animals, improve immune cell responses and reduce inflammation.

The Wuhan study – which looked at nearly 14,000 patients – was not a randomized control trial that was considered the gold standard of scientific research.

It means that the observation results, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, cannot prove that statins improved survival rates.

Dr Hongliang Li and colleagues found 6.8 percent of hospitalized Covid-19 patients who were not taking statins died after 28 days.

For comparison, the percentage of all hospital patients who received statins was 5.5 percent – statistically one fifth lower.

This is despite the fact that patients with statins who are often older and have underlying conditions are two known factors that increase the risk of death from the coronavirus.


The NHS approved dexamethasone two weeks ago for the treatment of Covid-19 after a large British study found that the steroid can reduce the risk of death in patients connected to fans by up to a third.

In the biggest medical breakthrough since the pandemic started, scientists found that the £ 5 drug also reduced the chance of death by a fifth for patients who needed some form of oxygen while battling the disease.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock described the results – which led officials to approve the drug immediately – as “astonishing” and claimed it would help “save thousands of lives while dealing with this terrible virus.”

Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, has called it the ‘key trial result’ so far, while Sir Patrick Vallance, number 10’s Chief Scientific Adviser, has called it ‘great news’.

First made in the 1950s, dexamethasone is usually given to treat ulcerative colitis, arthritis, and some cancers.

Results from the RECOVERY study, which involved 6,000 Covid-19 patients and were led by Oxford University scientists, suggest that the steroid may prevent death in one in eight ventilated coronavirus patients and one in 25 on respiratory support . It is the first study to show that treatment has a significant impact on reducing the risk of death.

But the drug – given as an injection or a tablet once a day on the NHS – did not benefit people who were hospitalized with the virus but did not need oxygen.

Dexamethasone is now the second drug available in the NHS arsenal to treat Covid-19, after Ebola’s remedivir was cleared for a new scientific breakthrough last month.

The steroid prevents the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation, an annoying Covid-19 complication that makes breathing difficult. The lungs become so inflamed in critically ill patients that they find it difficult to work.

The results were even stronger when the data was split into two groups corresponding to the same age, disease severity and pre-existing conditions.

Data showed that 9.4 percent of patients who were not on statins died, compared to 5.2 percent of those who had taken the cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Statins were also linked to a lower number of patients admitted to intensive care or suffering from acute respiratory failure – a life-threatening Covid-19 complication.

The results also suggested that ACE inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers – medicines given to patients with high blood pressure – did not worsen the severity of the disease.

An expert said, “There was a certain amount of evidence that suggested they may be related to a lower risk, although that evidence is not clear.”

The findings disprove claims made early in the crisis by experts in Greece and Switzerland, as the drugs both increase the expression of ACE-2 receptors.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind Covid-19, is said to enter the body and cause infection through the receptors found throughout the body.

Dr. Li said the findings justify the need for further studies to investigate the link between statins and Covid-19 survival rates.

Independent scientists called for caution about the findings, pointing to flaws in the study that could mistakenly refer to the protection of statins.

Cardiologist Dr. Riyaz Patel of University College London said patients with statins may have been hospitalized as a precaution because their comorbidities were high-risk.

This could mean that patients who were not on statins were hospitalized with more severe bouts of the disease, which could explain why they were more likely to die.

Professor Naveed Sattar, from the University of Glasgow, said the results far from proven statins lowered the risk of death from Covid-19.

He added, “Only randomized studies can answer this question. If further observational studies point in the same direction, such tests should be performed. ‘

Professor Kevin McConway, an Open University statistician, said the results were “interesting,” but also warned that they don’t prove statins are Covid-19 life-saving.

He said, “People were not asked by the researchers to take statins or not. The statin users were people who were prescribed statins anyway. ‘

Professor McConway said the two groups would likely have many different characteristics, which may be behind the differences in mortality rates.

The study also provides “useful evidence” about the safety of ACE inhibitors and ARBs in Covid-19 patients, according to experts.

Professor McConway said the results “provide a measure of certainty that they are unlikely to be harmful in Covid-19 patients.”