From the Journals

Simvastatin, atorvastatin cut mortality risk for sepsis patients

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The Taiwan connection – as good as it gets

The statin-sepsis mortality link will probably never be definitively proven, but the study by Lee and colleagues gives us the best data so far on this intriguing connection, Steven Q. Simpson, MD and Joel D. Mermis, MD wrote in an accompanying editorial.

“It is unlikely that prospective randomized trials of statins for prevention of sepsis mortality will ever be undertaken, owing to the sheer number of patients that would require randomization in order to have adequate numbers who actually develop sepsis,” the colleagues wrote. “We believe that the next best thing to randomization and a prospective trial is exactly what the authors have done – identify a cohort, track them through time, even if nonconcurrently, and match cases to controls by propensity matching on important clinical characteristics.”

Nevertheless, the two said, “This brings us to one aspect of the study that leaves open a window for some doubt.”

Lee et al. extracted their data from a large national insurance claims database. These systems “are commonly believed to overestimate sepsis incidence,” Dr. Simpson and Dr. Mermis wrote. A 2009 U.S. study bore this out, they said. “That study showed that in the U.S in 2014, there were approximately 1.7 million cases of sepsis in a population of 330 million, for an annual incidence rate of five sepsis cases per 1,000 patient-years.”

However, a “quick calculation” of the Taiwan data suggests that the annual sepsis caseload is about 5,200 per year in a population of 23 million at risk – an annual incidence of only 0.2 cases per 1,000 patient-years.

“This represents an order of magnitude difference in sepsis incidence between the U.S. and Taiwan, providing some issues to ponder. Does Taiwan indeed have a lower incidence of sepsis by that much? If so, is the lower incidence related to genetics, environment, health care access, or other factors?

“Although Lee et al. have provided us with data of the highest quality that we can likely hope for, the book may not be quite closed, yet.”

Dr. Mermis and Dr. Simpson are pulmonologists at the University of Kansas, Kansas City. They made their comments in an editorial published in the April issue of CHEST® (Mermis JD and Simpson SQ. CHEST. 2018 April. doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2017.12.004.)



Long-term statin use appears to decrease sepsis mortality by up to 28%, a large health care database review has determined.

Among almost 53,000 sepsis patients, those who had been taking simvastatin were 28% less likely to die within 30 days of a sepsis admission than were patients not taking a statin. Atorvastatin conferred a similar significant survival benefit, reducing the risk of death by 22%, Chien-Chang Lee, MD and his colleagues wrote in the April issue of the journal CHEST®.

Although the physiological link isn’t completely clear, animal studies suggest the survival benefit may be linked to statins’ ability to improve cardiac function, reduce inflammatory cytokines, and slow down neutrophil infiltration into the lung, wrote Dr. Lee of the National Taiwan University Hospital, Taipei, and colleagues.

The drugs also exert a direct antimicrobial effect, he asserted.

“Of note, simvastatin was shown by several reports to have the most potent antibacterial activity,” targeting both methicillin-resistant and -sensitive Staphylococcus aureus, as well as gram negative and positive bacteria.

Dr. Lee and his colleagues extracted mortality and statin prescription data from the Taiwan National Health Insurance Database from 2000-2011. They looked at 30- and 90-day mortality in 52,737 patients who developed sepsis; the statins of interest were atorvastatin, simvastatin, and rosuvastatin. Patients had to have been taking the medication for at least 30 days before sepsis onset to be included, and patients taking more than one statin were excluded from the analysis.

Patients were a mean of 69 years old. About half had a lower respiratory infection. The remainder had infections within the abdomen, the biliary or urinary tract, skin, or orthopedic infections. There were no significant differences in comorbidities or in other medications taken among the three statin groups or the nonusers.


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