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Cholesterol-lowering drugs may treat swine flu


3 Star

Cholesterol-lowering drugs may treat swine flu

Our Review Summary

This piece presents the results of a recent study that found that use of statins was associated with decreased mortality in people hospitalized with influenza. While the inclusion of several independent sources was a particular strength of this story, it could have been improved by making it clearer that this research is preliminary and has yet to undergo a formal review process to ensure their methods are sound and their calculations are accurate.  A presentation of absolute risk reduction in mortality and a discussion of the limitations associated with observational studies would have also strengthened the piece.




Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Statins are described as “cheap,” but actual figures are not provided. The price of statins varies considerably and some are not cheap.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The piece states that statins reduced the rate of deaths by half compared to those not taking statins; however, it would have been more useful to the reader had the results been presented in terms of absolute risk reduction. (See our primer on absolute vs. relative risks.) 

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story doesn’t give the details behind a physician’s comment that "there are relatively few downsides to trying statins" and that statins are “relatively safe." For the reader, who may not know much or anything about statins, what does that mean?  What are the downsides?  And how often do they occur?

Although uncommon, statins may cause muscle soreness/damage or elevated liver enzymes.

In a shared decision-making environment, one would simply spell out the facts and let the reader/consumer/patient decide what "relatively few" and "relatively safe" means to them. 

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

While the story indicates that these data were presented at the Infectious Diseases Society of America conference, it does not explicitly state that the results have not been published in a medical journal. Unlike published articles, this study has not gone through a rigorous review process.  Furthermore, this study is observational, rather than experimental, and we cannot be sure if those who are taking statins are not different is some way than those who were not taking them and whether this could also account for the differences in survival between the groups.  The story could have made at least brief mention of these limitations. 



Does the story commit disease-mongering?


This story does not engage in disease-mongering.  

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


This story includes commentary from several experts, including those not involved with the new study.  The writer also points out that the CDC sponsored the study.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story discusses other flu treatments, specifically Tamiflu and the experimental drug, peramivir, so we’ll give it a satisfactory grade on this criterion.  But it could have mentioned other treatments in the hospital that also affect mortality, including type of ventilation, antibiotics for secondary infection and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.  

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


This story makes it clear that statins are widely available.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story clearly indicates that this is the first large-scale study to evaluate the role of statins in increasing survival associated with the flu. The story also mentions previous research, which found that statins can improve survival from other infectious diseases.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


The story does not appear to rely on a press release.

Total Score: 6 of 10 Satisfactory


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