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Flu Vaccine may lower risk of heart attack

September 2013


Laterlife spoke to Professor Raina MacIntyre, in charge of the research, to find out more.

We now know that flu can be more than a nasty nuisance. It can lead to a range of complications such as chest infections and even pneumonia and for some years the government has recommended that older age groups take advantage of the free flu vaccination that is offered annually.

However, after being in contact with Professor Raina MacIntyre, the Professor of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology at the University of New South Wales in Australia, LaterLife has now learned all about an additional advantage has been found from flu vaccinations.

A new study has found that for middle-aged plus people with narrowed arteries, a flu vaccine can lower their risk of a heart attack by nearly half.

The study was conducted under the leadership of Professor MacIntyre and the work was supported by a grand from GlaxoSmithKline.

Professor Raina MacIntyre, University of New South WalesProfessor MacIntyre told Laterlife that the study was undertaken to investigate whether influenza is a significant and unrecognised underlying precipitant of acute myocardial infarction (AMI).

AMI is the medical term for the event we know as a heart attack and happens when blood stops flowing properly to part of the heart.

Professor MacIntyre said the study looked at the association of influenza and flu vaccination with heart attacks over three winter seasons in Sydney, between 2008 and 2010.  During this time they examined nose and throat swabs and blood samples of 559 patients over the age of 40, around half of whom had suffered a heart attack.

“The findings showed the influenza vaccination protected significantly against heart attacks,” said Professor MacIntyre.

The study suggested that while flu itself does not increase the risk of a heart attack, having the flu vaccine appeared to have a protective effect, reducing the chance of a heart attack by 45 per cent.

Dr Pramesh Kavoor, a Director of Cardiac Services and co-author of the report, is now suggesting doctors should consider giving a flu vaccination to heart attack patients before they leave hospital and GPs should also start considering it for those who show risks associated with heart disease.

Having a flu vaccination every year is a good idea anyway and you need one every year to ensure you are protected against the latest flu virus strains which change every year. The best time to have the flu vaccination is in the autumn from now to early November.  No vaccine is 100% effective but it does mean you are a lot less likely to get flu, and even if you do it should be a lot milder than if you hadn’t been vaccinated.

Here in the UK flu vaccinations are offered free on the NHS to everyone over the age of 65 and to people with certain medical conditions.  Otherwise you can still easily obtain a flu vaccine, ask at your local pharmacy or drop in medical centre, but the cost is around £20.

And now we know that having a flu jab can help give protection against heart attacks, there is even more reason to have that vaccination this autumn.



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