Flu Shot Reduces Cardiac Risk
October 23, 2013

Flu Shots Cut Risk Of Heart Attack And Stroke

[ Watch the Video: Getting A Flu Shot Could Help Your Cardiovascular Health ]

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

In addition to preventing a seasonal illness, the flu vaccine may reduce the risk of heart attack, according to a new study in The Journal of the American Medical Association. For individuals who have already had a heart attack or stroke, the vaccination was shown to decrease the risk by over 50 percent, the international team of study researchers found.

"Among nontraditional cardiovascular risk factors, there remains interest in a potential association between respiratory tract infections, of which influenza and influenza-like illnesses are common causes, and subsequent cardiovascular events," the scientists wrote in their report.

Other previous research has also pointed to a strong connection between influenza vaccination and risk reduction for fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular events.

"Our study provides solid evidence that the flu shot helps prevent heart disease in vulnerable patients - with the best protection in the highest risk patients," said study author Dr. Jason Udell, a cardiologist at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. "These findings are extraordinary given the potential for this vaccine to serve as yearly preventative therapy for patients with heart disease, the leading cause of death among men and women in North America."

To reach their conclusion, the authors conducted a research review that included six clinical vaccination trials that were conducted around the world. The six trials, one unpublished and five that were published, included over 6,700 patients with an average age of 67 years. Half of the patients in the study were vaccinated, while half got a placebo shot or nothing at all.

Fifty-one percent of these patients were women and 36 percent had a history of cardiac complications. On average, researchers followed-up on vaccinated patients after 7.9 months.

Overall, 36 percent of vaccinated patients had a reduced risk of a severe cardiac event such as heart attack or stroke one year later. Those patients who had a recent heart attack and were vaccinated had a 55 percent lower risk of having a severe cardiac event. Vaccinated patients also were less likely to die from cardiac-related events and other causes, and were less likely to have a severe cardiac event with a stronger vaccine compared with the typical seasonal vaccine.

"If the flu vaccine can reduce the risk of cardiac events, these shots could have considerable impact on cardiac health," Udell said.

The study authors said that a large clinical trial would be necessary to validate the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine as a treatment that will cut the risk of a cardiovascular event in people with heart disease.

"These findings are all the ammunition we need to move forward," said study author Dr. Michael Farkouh, a cardiologist at the University of Toronto. "We'll build on this research with a definitive, international trial to conclusively determine whether the flu shot prevents heart attacks."

The research team noted that their findings could be significant for people with or at risk for cardiovascular disease.

"Hundreds of thousands of people die each year from cardiac causes in North America," Udell said. "While preventative care involves lifestyle changes and taking your pills, now, we may also be able to tell patients by getting your flu shot, it might save your life – what a simple and significant way to reduce deaths and the burden on our healthcare system."