Now there might be even more reason to get the annual flu jab – it could be having more of a public health impact than we realise. A study from Australia has shown that the flu vaccine may lower the probability of heart attack by 45%.
In the 559-participant case-control study, published in Heart, half of the participants were inpatients with acute myocardial infarction (MI) while half were outpatients without acute MI. The researchers, from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, showed that while influenza infection was not a significant predictor of recent acute MI, influenza vaccination was significantly protective – with a vaccine effectiveness of 45%.
The link between heart disease and influenza has been established in the past, and patients with chronic heart disease are already offered the annual flu vaccine on the NHS. However, previous thinking has been that the inflammatory response to influenza might increase blood clotting in narrowed arteries, but this research suggests that influenza infection does not in itself increase risk of heart attack – rather, the vaccine itself has a protective effect.
This study adds new weight to proposals to move the recommended age for annual influenza vaccination from 65 to 50.
“Previously the policy debate has looked at the cost effectiveness of lowering the age of vaccination below 65 to the age of 50, looking only at the cost of preventing influenza,” said Professor MacIntyre. “What this study shows is that, at least, policy makers should be also looking at the cost saving of preventing heart attack.”
A shift to recommending influenza vaccines earlier in life would favour GlaxoSmithKline, who backed the study.
In 2012, researchers based in Toronto looked at published clinical trials on the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine reducing risk of major cardiac events. The researchers found that the influenza vaccine provided an approximate 50% reduction in the risk of heart attack, stroke or cardiac death, compared to placebo vaccine.
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