Flu Shots May Lower Heart Attack Risk

Influenza shots protect you from more than just the flu

flu shot

Getting immunized against the flu is a good way to protect yourself from the effects of this seasonal illness. It’s even more important if you have existing cardiovascular disease and are at risk for developing complications. Another good reason to get the flu shot: A recent study supports scientists’ belief that preventing influenza can lower a person’s risk for heart attack.

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New study

A study recently published on TheHeart.org shows that people who get the flu vaccine have fewer heart attacks than those who don’t get immunized.

Benico Barzilai, MD, Section Head of Clinical Cardiology at Cleveland Clinic, did not participate in the study but reviewed the results. He believes the benefits of the flu vaccine far outweigh the risks, and he agrees that the results, “…suggest that flu vaccination may be protective against cardiovascular events.” However, he cautions that there is no definitive proof that flu shots act directly to lower the risk of heart incidents. “This is a very intriguing study but the mechanism of the protection is not entirely clear.”

The study adds to the body of literature that shows a protective link between vaccination for the flu and reduction of the risk of acute myocardial infarction (heart attack). There is more work to be done, says Dr. Barzilai, who adds, “…a randomized trial of flu vaccination is sorely needed to prove its protective effects against myocardial infarction.”

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Flu shots recommended for most people

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all people 6 months and older receive an annual influenza (flu) vaccine. It is especially important if you have heart disease, have had a stroke, or if you:

  • Have diabetes
  • Have chronic lung disease [including asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)]
  • Have cancer
  • Live in a long-term assisted living facility
  • Have a weakened immune system (including people with AIDS)
  • Are 50 and older

It is also important that people who live with or care for others who are at a high risk of developing serious complications get vaccinated against the flu.

A few warnings

Check with your doctor before getting a flu vaccination if you:

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  • Are allergic to eggs
  • Have had a severe reaction following vaccination
  • Are sick and have a fever
  • Have a history of Guillain–Barré Syndrome (a severe paralytic illness, also called GBS)

New for 2013 – 2014

Newly approved, so-called quadrivalent vaccines protect you from four separate strains of flu. They will be available in addition to existing trivalent vaccines, which protect you from three strains of flu. Both trivalent and quadrivalent vaccines will be available this season, but availability will vary depending on your location.

Both the trivalent and quadrivalent vaccines are available in two different forms: a flu shot that contains an inactivated (not-live) vaccine and a nasal spray flu vaccine that contains a weakened, live virus. Patients with cardiovascular conditions or other health problems, such as asthma, should get the inactivated flu shot rather than the live virus nasal spray flu vaccine. 

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, consult with your physician before getting immunized.

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