Flu Shots and Heart Attacks

Here’s another reason to get a flu shot. A British study finds it may do more than prevent you from getting the flu. It may protect against heart attacks, and the earlier in the season a shot is given the greater the protection.

Researchers traced the medical records of thousands of patients between 2001 and 2007 and found that overall, those who had had the vaccine within the previous year were 19 per cent less likely to have their first heart attack than those who did not have the shot.

They also found that getting inoculated between September and mid-November was associated with a 21 per cent reduction in the heart attack rate, compared to a 12 per cent drop with later vaccination.

Researchers have long known that cardiovascular deaths peak during flu season. For instance, in a 2007 study of a group of largely unvaccinated Russians, deaths from heart attacks jumped by 30 per cent in the general population during flu outbreaks.

The general hypothesis many scientists are exploring is that the vaccine, in itself, does not create some sort of immunity. Instead, simply not getting the flu offers protection against heart attacks. It’s believed that when a person gets the flu, inflammation can cause any existing plaque on the walls of blood vessels to rupture, sending potentially fatal blood clots into the bloodstream, and to the heart.

The study is published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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