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Cholesterol-lowering drugs may work against typhoid

Salmonella typhi / Wikipedia

Medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies are constantly looking for new uses for existing and proven medications, but it's likely no one saw this coming: cholesterol-lowering drugs might also work against typhoid and other infectious diseases, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Why it matters: There are more than 21 million cases of typhoid fever every year, killing more than 200,000 people annually — mostly in countries with poor sanitation and limited access to clean water. "The findings raise the intriguing possibility that cholesterol-lowering drugs, combined with vaccines, might help protect against typhoid," the researchers wrote.

What they found: Duke University researchers accidentally discovered that statins — which can lower cholesterol and hedge against the risk of heart attacks — might also work against typhoid while they were studying ways in which bacteria infected cells in some people and not others.

  • They found that a genetic variation is associated with whether bacteria that cause typhoid could enter cells — and the cells it could enter had higher levels of cholesterol on their membranes.
  • The same variation was associated with a risk for typhoid fever in a group of 1000 Vietnamese people whose DNA they tested.
  • The researchers also treated zebrafish with a cholesterol-lowering drug and found it reduced their susceptibility to typhoid infection.