A new study suggests that the use of statins may prevent the risk of a bloodstream infection with Staphylococcus aureus by almost a third.

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The use of this heart disease medication may also prevent staph infection.

Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium that is simultaneously part of our normal flora but that can also cause disease.

In fact, S. aureus, which is also known as “staph,” is the leading cause of bacteremia (or infection of the bloodstream) and bacterial endocarditis (or infection of the heart). Once staph reaches the bloodstream, the infection can be fatal.

Fortunately, however, new research suggests that taking statins – medication commonly used to prevent heart disease – may prevent the risk of a staph bacteremia by almost a third.

The study was a collaboration between researchers at the University Hospitals in Aalborg and Aarhus, both in Denmark, and the University Hospital in Seville, Spain.

The lead investigator for the research is Dr. Jesper Smit, of the Department of Clinical Microbiology at Aalborg University Hospital, and the findings were published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Dr. Smit and colleagues analyzed the medical records of almost 30,000 Danish statin users over a period of 12 years, between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2011.

Statin users were grouped under “current users” – who were then broken down further into new or long-term use – “former users,” and “non-users.”

Long-term users were defined as such if they had received multiple prescriptions for statins for more than 90 days, while new users received their first prescription within 90 days prior to the study.

Participants had been prescribed statins for various chronic conditions, including diabetes, kidney disease, and liver disease.

During the 12-year follow-up period, the researchers found 2,638 cases of S. aureus bacteremia.

These people were matched by 26,379 controls who did not develop the infection. Controls were matched by age, sex, and residence in Denmark over the follow-up period.

Current statin users were 27 percent less likely to have a community-acquired staph infection, and long-term users had a 30 percent lower risk of developing such an infection.

Additionally, the findings were dose-respondent, meaning that the more statins the users were taking, the less likely they were to acquire the infection.

Dr. Smit expands on the significance of the findings, saying, “Our results indicate that statins may have an important place in the prevention of bloodstream infection caused by S. aureus, which would hold important clinical and public health implications.”

“Nevertheless,” he goes on to say, “our observations warrant confirmation in other settings and the biological mechanisms by which statin treatment may protect against this type of infection should be explored further.”

In an editorial accompanying the study, Drs. Daniel C. and Christopher V. DeSimone, both from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, explain the clinical implications of the findings.

They say, “The work by Smit et al. raises the exciting possibility that the pleiotropic effects [having multiple health benefits] of statins may also harbor important antimicrobial effects that may exert a clinically relevant benefit by conferring resistance to [community-acquired staph bacteremia].”

The editorial also emphasizes that the study “should stimulate randomized, placebo-controlled trials examining this effect of statins.”

Such trials […] are appealing, because [statins] are relatively low cost, can easily be matched against a placebo, and would allow for enrollment at the time of an already necessary antibiotic prescription.”