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Oct 23, 2013

Flu Shot Curbs Cardiovascular Risk

The seasonal flu shot is life-saving for patients at high risk for heart disease.

This time of year, millions of Americans line up for the seasonal flu vaccine in hopes of preventing the flu. But for patients at high risk for heart disease, this vaccine does more than simply prevent the flu—it can save lives, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

This study reviewed six clinical trials that included more than 6,700 patients at high risk for heart disease. In each study, patients were assigned to receive the seasonal flu vaccine or a placebo containing no active medication or ingredients. After following participants for an average of eight months, researchers found that the flu vaccine significantly reduces risk for death and cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke. They also found that patients with more active heart disease (patients with heart disease symptoms or history of heart attack) saw the greatest benefits from the flu vaccine compared to those with less active heart disease.

Although we know that patients with heart disease are more vulnerable to the flu than healthy individuals, this study shows that the flu vaccine actually helps prevent cardiovascular events and death in high-risk patients. So for patients with heart disease or at high risk for heart disease, the flu vaccine is life-saving.

Flu season typically starts in the fall and peaks in January or February, so it’s important that vulnerable patients get the vaccine. Individuals who are at greatest risk for complications from the flu include those with heart disease and other health conditions like diabetes, cancer and asthma. Not only does the vaccine help prevent the flu, it can help lessen the effects of the flu in those who catch it and reduce risk of serious complications.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Should I get a flu shot?
  • Beginning in 2010, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a recommendation that everyone get vaccinated against the flu virus. The flu shot (injected by needle, usually in arm) is safe for most adults and children older than 6 months, including people with heart disease. It is especially important for groups at high risk for flu-related complications. These include:

    • Pregnant women
    • Children younger than age 5, especially children under than 2 years old
    • People age 50 and older
    • People of any age with chronic medical conditions
    • People who live in nursing homes and long-term care facilities
    • People who live with or care for people at high risk of flu complications. This includes:
      • Health care workers
      • People who live in households with people at high risk
      • Caregivers of children younger than 6 month old

    Another type of the flu vaccine is given as a nasal spray. This vaccine is recommended only for healthy individuals between the ages of 2 and 49 years old who are not pregnant. The nasal spray is not advised for people with heart disease or other chronic conditions because it uses a live form of the virus. You should always talk to your doctor before getting vaccinated.

  • When should I get a flu shot and why do I need one every year?
  • It is important to get vaccinated before the start of the flu season, which may begin as early as October and usually peaks in January. It takes about 2 weeks after getting the vaccine for your body to build up antibodies to the virus. You need to get a flu shot every year in order to be protected because the virus changes from season to season. Each year, researchers formulate a new vaccine based on the three strains of influenza virus they expect to be most common in the upcoming months.

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