COMMENTARY

Preventing MI: The Latest Data on the Role of Influenza Vaccine

Sandra Adamson Fryhofer, MD

Disclosures

January 22, 2014

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Hello. I'm Dr. Sandra Fryhofer. Welcome to Medicine Matters. The topic: flu vaccination -- new studies say that preventing heart attacks and stroke may be another reason to roll up your sleeve. Here's why it matters.

Flu season is here. Two new studies suggest another reason to make sure you've been vaccinated. The first study is published in the medical journal Heart.[1] It looked at more than 550 patients. Half were hospitalized with a heart attack. The other half, the control group, were outpatients but not for heart attack.

Compared with the control group, those hospitalized with heart attacks were twice as likely to have had flu: 12% of those suffering heart attack had flu compared with 7% of those without a cardiac event. The heart attack group was half as likely to have been vaccinated against flu.

From these data, researchers concluded that flu vaccination is protective against heart attack and had cut heart attack risk by 45%.

A more recent and much larger study was published in JAMA.[2] This meta-analysis combined 5 international trials and about 6500 patients who were followed, on average, for about 8 months. One third of them had recognized heart disease. For those with stable heart disease, getting vaccinated for flu reduced the risk for heart attack or stroke by 36%. For those who had a heart attack within the past year, the protective effect was even greater: a 55% reduction in heart attack.

The protective effect from flu vaccination may be related to reducing inflammation. It may help keep atherosclerotic plaques and heart arteries from rupturing, clogging the heart artery and thus blocking blood flow.

There has been criticism of these studies. Many experts say these studies really don't prove that getting vaccinated will definitely prevent heart attack. More research is needed. But with heart disease, the leading killer of people in this country, do you really want to roll those dice? Get vaccinated against flu. Everyone over 6 months old needs flu vaccination every year.

For Medicine Matters, I’m Dr. Sandra Fryhofer.

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