When side effects are welcomed: Statins may double as flu fighters

On the heels of a deadlier-than-normal flu season, some scientists are wondering what will happen when a true pandemic hits.

Vaccine doses would likely dry up—but cheap, readily available medications like statins could help a patient stave off flu as the virus runs its course, a pair of researchers told NPR. In these cases, a drug’s side effects might actually be beneficial.

"It's been long recognized that these drugs do a whole lot more than just lower cholesterol levels," said Jeffrey Jacobson, MD, a pulmonologist in Chicago who studies the unusual properties of statins.

Statins also boast anti-inflammatory effects, which could help individuals fight flu symptoms. Early studies testing this hypothesis have been mixed, according to NPR, but some suggested a benefit.

"If we can do something to protect people during the course of their infection or injury we ideally would buy them enough time to survive," Jacobson said. "These drugs are readily available, they're pretty darned cheap all things considered, and they're relatively safe. So it's sort of a win-win-win if we can actually demonstrate that these have protective and beneficial effects."

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