Do statins have a role in treating novel Coronavirus infection, COVID-19?

There is currently no firm clinical evidence that statins improve the outcome of COVID-19. However, there are some theoretical reasons for believing that statins may have a role in the treatment of COVID-19.  That’s because beyond their cholesterol lowering action, statins may also have clinically relevant anti-inflammatory and antiviral (pleotropic) properties.  

Anti-inflammatory: Anti-inflammatory effect of statins is well known and is thought to occur through a variety of molecular pathways of the innate and adaptive immune systems as well as attenuation of several circulating proinflammatory cytokines.1 Although observational studies have suggested that statins lower hospitalization and mortality among outpatients hospitalized with infection, pneumonia or sepsis, several randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have failed to show any mortality benefit among ICU patients with sepsis and ARDS treated with statins.2

In contrast, an RCT involving patients with sepsis (majority with pneumonia, mean CRP 195 mg/dL) reported significant reduction in progression to severe sepsis among statin-naïve patients  placed on atorvastatin 40 mg/day at the time of hospitalization.3 So, perhaps timing of statin therapy before florid sepsis and ARDS is an important factor.  

Some have suggested that statins may decrease the fatality rate of a related Coronavirus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus, by blunting exuberant inflammatory response that may result in a fatal outcome. 4

Antiviral: Statins may also have antiviral properties, including activity against influenza, hepatitis C virus, Zika and dengue viruses.2,5 Whether statins have activity against coronaviruses such as the agent of COVID-19 is unclear at this time.

It’s interesting to note that cholesterol may have an important role in the membrane attachment, fusion and replication of many enveloped viruses, including influenza.5 Covid-19 is also an enveloped virus.

So what do we do? Based on the current data, it makes sense to continue statins in patients who have known clinical indications for their use and no obvious contraindications because of COVID-19 (eg. rhabdomyolysis).6 As for statin-naïve patients, particularly those in early stages of sepsis and increased risk of cardiovascular events, benefit may outweigh the risk.  Only proper clinical studies will give us more definitive answers.

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that lipids make up a major component of the envelope in enveloped viruses and that cholesterol makes up nearly one-half of total lipid and over 10% the total mass of influenza viruses?

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  1. Tousoulis D, Psarros C, Demosthenous M, et al. Innate and adaptive inflammation as a therapeutic target in vascular diseae: The emerging role of statins. J Am Coll Cardiol 2014;63:2491-2502.
  2. Fedson DS. Treating the host response to emerging virus diseases: lessons learned from sepsis, pneumonia, influenza and Ebola. Ann Transl Med 2016;4:421.
  3. Patel JM, Snaith C, Thickette DR. Randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial of 40 mg/day of atorvastatin in reducing the severity of sepsis in ward patients (ASEPSIS Trial) Critical Care 2012;16:R231.
  4. Espano E, Nam JH, Song EJ, et al. Lipophilic statins inhibit Zika virus production in Vero cells. Scientific Reports 2019;9:11461.
  5. Sun X, Whittaker GR. Role for influenza virus envelope cholesterol in virus entry and infection. J Virol 2003;77:12543-12551.
  6. Virani SS. Is there a role for statin therapy in acute viral infections. Am Coll Cardiol March 18, 2020.

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

Do statins have a role in treating novel Coronavirus infection, COVID-19?

My patient with erythema multiforme has tested positive for Mycoplasma pneumoniae IgM antibody. Does this mean she has an acute M. pneumonia infection as the cause of her acute illness?

Not necessarily! Although detection of IgM in the serum of patients has proven valuable in diagnosing many infections during their early phase, particularly before IgG is detected, less well known is that false-positive IgM results are not uncommon. 1

More specific to M. pneumoniae IgM, false-positive results have been reported in 10-80% of patients without a clinical diagnosis of acute M. pneumoniae infection 2-4 and 3-15% of blood donors. 4

False-positive IgM results may also occur when testing for other infectious agents, such as the agent of Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi), arboviruses (eg, Zika virus), and herpes simplex, Epstein-Barr, cytomegalovirus, hepatitis A and measles viruses. 1,5  

Reports of false positive IgM results include a patient with congestive heart failure and mildly elevated liver enzymes who had a false-positive hepatitis IgM which led to unnecessary public health investigation and exclusion from an adult day care center. 1 Another patient with sulfa rash had a false-positive measles IgM antibody resulting in callback of >100 patients and healthcare providers for testing!5

There are many potential mechanisms for false-positive IgM results, including polyclonal B cell activation, “vigorous immune response”, cross-reactive antibodies, autoimmune disease, subclinical reactivation of latent viruses, influenza vaccination, overreading weakly reactive results, and persistence of antibodies long after the resolution of the acute disease. 1,2

In our patient, a significant rise in M. pneumoniae IgG between acute and convalescent samples several weeks apart may be more helpful in diagnosing an acute infection accounting for her erythema multiforme.



  1. Landry ML. Immunoglobulin M for acute infection: true or false? Clin Vac Immunol 2016;23:540-5.
  2. Csango PA, Pedersen JE, Hess RD. Comparison of four Mycoplasma pneumoniae IgM-, IgG- and IgA-specific enzyme immunoassays in blood donors and patients. Clin Micro Infect 2004;10:1089-1104.
  3. Thacker WL, Talkington DF. Analysis of complement fixation and commercial enzyme immunoassays for detection of antibodies to Mycoplasma pneumoniae in human serum. Clin Diag Lab Immunol 2000;7:778-80.
  4. Ryuta U, Juri O, Inoue Y, et al. Rapid detection of Mycoplasma pneumoniae IgM antibodies using immunoCard Mycoplasma kit compared with complement fixation (CF) tests and clinical application. European Respiratory Journal 2012; 40: P 2466 (Abstract). 
  5. Woods CR. False-positive results for immunoglobulin M serologic results: explanations and examples. J Ped Infect Dis Soc 2013;2:87-90.

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My patient with erythema multiforme has tested positive for Mycoplasma pneumoniae IgM antibody. Does this mean she has an acute M. pneumonia infection as the cause of her acute illness?