Statins possess immunomodulatory properties and have been proposed for reducing morbidity during an influenza pandemic. We sought to evaluate the effect of statins on hospitalizations and deaths related to seasonal influenza outbreaks.
We conducted a population-based cohort study over 10 influenza seasons (1996 to 2006) using linked administrative databases in Ontario, Canada. We identified all adults older than 65 years who had received an influenza vaccination prior to the start of influenza season and distinguished those also prescribed statins (23%) from those not also prescribed statins (77%). Propensity-based matching, which accounted for each individual's likelihood of receiving a statin, yielded a final cohort of 2,240,638 patients, exactly half of whom received statins. Statins were associated with small protective effects against pneumonia hospitalization (odds ratio [OR] 0.92; 95% CI 0.89-0.95), 30-day pneumonia mortality (0.84; 95% CI 0.77-0.91), and all-cause mortality (0.87; 95% CI 0.84-0.89). These protective effects attenuated substantially after multivariate adjustment and when we excluded multiple observations for each individual, declined over time, differed across propensity score quintiles and risk groups, and were unchanged during post-influenza season periods. The main limitations of this study were the observational study design, the non-specific outcomes, and the lack of information on medications while hospitalized.
Statin use is associated with a statistically significant but minimal protective effect against influenza morbidity that can easily be attributed to residual confounding. Public health officials and clinicians should focus on other measures to reduce morbidity and mortality from the next influenza pandemic.