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Getting a Flu Shot lowers Heart Attack Risk

By Marrecca Fiore

A new study from the United Kingdom finds that getting a flu shot in the fall can prevent the onset of a first heart attack by an average of 19 percent.

The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, suggests a link between influenza, pneumonia and heart attacks, as heart attacks typically increase during the winter months. Because of this, researchers believe getting vaccinated against the flu in the early fall may prevent the increase of heart attacks during the winter months.

U.K. researchers looked at 78,706 patients ages 40 and older from 379 family doctor practices in England and Wales. Of the patients, 16,012 had heart attacks, 8,472 of which had been vaccinated. The researchers found that having an influenza vaccination within the past year was associated with a significantly reduced rate of having a heart attack.

Early vaccination, between September and Mid-November, was associated with the highest reduction rate, about 21 percent. Late vaccination reduced the risk by 12 percent.

“Our findings reinforce current recommendations for annual influenza vaccination of target groups, with a potential added benefit for prevention of acute myocardial infarction in those without established cardiovascular disease,” writes Dr. Niroshan Siriwardena, University of Lincoln, United Kingdom with coauthors Stella Gwini and Carol Coupland, in the study. “This benefit may lead to an increase in suboptimal rates of vaccination, particularly among younger patients.”

The researchers adjusted their findings for bias because people at risk for heart attacks were more likely to get flu shots than those not at risk.

They concluded that if similar studies also find that the flu shot prevents heart attacks, it could lead to a change in recommendations for timing and indications for the vaccination.