Flu vaccinations take a place of prominence in social consciousness as we enter the fall season. From insurance companies to doctors’ offices and even local drugstores, encouragement to get a flu shot seems to come from every corner. And yet, fewer than 50 percent of all Americans actually receive a flu vaccination in a typical year. This is attributable in large part to some common misconceptions regarding the vaccine’s efficacy and a gross underestimation of the potential impact the influenza virus can have, even on those who appear to be otherwise healthy.
Among those whose health is particularly vulnerable to influenza (“the flu”) are individuals suffering from heart disease. Unfortunately, many patients are unaware of their heart’s precarious situation until a major cardiovascular event such as a heart attack occurs. This means that although an individual may assume themselves to be healthy, heart and vascular trouble may be lurking just beneath the surface, and a flu shot may be far more important to their own health than they realize.
The potential complications from the flu on heart health, particularly for those with underlying conditions, is frightening in and of itself. Even more alarming, however, is how little patients know about the connection and its possible impact. Consider the following statistics regarding influenza infection and acute myocardial infarction (heart attack):
- Studies have shown the flu vaccine to have a protective effectiveness against acute myocardial infarction (AMI) of anywhere from 19 to 45 percent.
- Older adults with known preexisting heart conditions can reduce their risk of heart attack by more than 50 percent with the flu vaccine.
- Studies have shown that patients with type 2 diabetes who receive the influenza vaccination have a 22 percent lower risk for heart failure and a 30 percent lower risk of hospitalization for stroke.
Flu Vaccination as Coronary Prevention
Just as patients of all ages and health are encouraged to proactively care for their heart by not smoking, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a heart healthy diet, so too should they be encouraged to receive an annual influenza vaccination. Not only is the vaccine simple to administer and largely without complication, it can protect the health of both the patient and those around them.
If you have previously been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, have a commonly linked condition such as high cholesterol or diabetes or a family history of heart disease, discussing the flu shot with your physician should be at the very top of your yearly priority list. However, even if you have none of these factors, being protected against the flu can be equally important. Many others, such as the elderly, the very young, and the infirmed benefit not only from their own vaccination, but from the vaccination of those around them as well. In short, in order to keep a highly contagious viral infection such as the flu confined everyone who is medically able should make yearly flu vaccination a priority. Not only will it help you protect those who are around you, but it may just help protect you in ways you hadn’t previously imagined.