A study finds that people who received a flu vaccine were less likely to have a heart attack and die from cardiovascular disease.
The flu vaccine has been proven effective in preventing seasonal infections, hospitalizations, and death. In the United States, all individuals six months and older are recommended to get the flu vaccine each season.
The new study published in the Scientific Reports last week suggests the flu vaccine may have additional health benefits for older individuals: those vaccinated are 26% less likely to experience heart attack and are at 33% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
Researchers from the Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences in Tehran, Iran, analyzed data from 9,059 patients who were 61 years old on average. Of those, 4,529 received the flu vaccine, while the rest got a placebo. They were followed up for nine months on average.
During that period, 517 major cardiovascular events occurred among those vaccinated, compared to 621 cases in the placebo group. Eighty-six vaccinated patients and 116 of those who received the placebo experienced a heart attack.
The authors wrote, "Notably, patients who received the influenza vaccine experienced a remarkable risk reduction of over 20% in cardiovascular death."
How do flu shots help the heart?
Several mechanisms could explain how the flu vaccine improves cardiovascular health. Flu infections trigger systemic inflammation, which may lead to the buildup of fats and cholesterol in the arteries and cause cardiovascular diseases.
Flu infections may weaken the immune system, making it more susceptible to secondary infections, exacerbating cardiovascular conditions.
Meanwhile, the flu vaccine activates the immune system, the proper regulation of which is essential for cardiovascular health.
The authors concluded, "These findings underscore the potential impact of influenza vaccination in safeguarding against adverse cardiovascular outcomes among vulnerable patient populations."
Who should get the vaccine?
Receiving a seasonal flu vaccine is especially important for individuals at a higher risk of developing severe complications. These are adults 65 and older, pregnant women, and individuals with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and chronic kidney disease.
The following health conditions can also put people at higher risk for flu complications:
- Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions
- Blood disorders, such as sickle cell disease
- Chronic lung diseases
- Liver disorders
- Weakened immune system due to disease, such as HIV, AIDS, or some cancers, or medications, including chemotherapy and immunosuppressants
- People with a history of stroke
Although the vaccine is the most effective way to prevent infections, good health habits may also reduce the risk of catching flu.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends avoiding close contact with sick people and staying home while feeling ill. Moreover, consider covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
Proper hand hygiene, which includes washing hands often or using alcohol-based sanitizers, can also help prevent infections. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, as hands may be contaminated with germs.