...Study shows heart is­sues are more com­mon in peo­ple who skip the shot

Swazi Observer - - FEATURES & OPINION -

Were the mem­bers of the leg­endary mu­si­cal group Bon Jovi med­i­cal vi­sion­ar­ies? How else do you ex­plain Shot to the Heart? This prophetic song pre­dicted the pro­tec­tive ben­e­fits of the flu shot against heart dis­ease more than 30 years be­fore re­searchers would ar­rive at the same con­clu­sion.

Ear­lier in 2018, re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Toronto pub­lished a ground-break­ing study in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine link­ing heart at­tacks and in­fluenza. The study by Dr. Jef­frey Kwong and col­leagues ex­am­ined al­most 20 000 pa­tients who tested pos­i­tive for in­fluenza.

They dis­cov­ered that the risk of a heart at­tack in­creases 600 per cent within a week of in­fluenza in­fec­tion. While the risk in­creased with other res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions, in­fluenza caused the great­est in­crease.

As a molec­u­lar car­di­ol­o­gist, my re­search fo­cuses on de­vel­op­ing new treat­ments for heart at­tacks. The dis­cov­ery that in­fluenza is such a pow­er­ful risk for heart at­tacks presents re­searchers and health-care pro­fes­sion­als with a new chal­lenge in deal­ing with pa­tients who have heart dis­ease.

With in­fluenza rear­ing its ugly head ev­ery year, what can be done to pro­tect the heart? It turns out some­thing as sim­ple as the flu vac­cine may pro­vide a pro­tec­tive 'shot to the heart.'

In­ves­ti­ga­tors from the Na­tional In­sti­tute of In­fec­tious Dis­eases and Vac­ci­nol­ogy in Tai­wan ex­am­ined the med­i­cal records of 80 000 el­derly pa­tients over 13 years. This study found that an an­nual in­fluenza vac­ci­na­tion de­creased the risk of a heart at­tack by 20 per cent and of­fered sim­i­lar pro­tec­tion against strokes.

The flu shot doesn't just de­crease the risk of heart at­tacks. It also pro­tects pa­tients who al­ready have heart dis­ease. In a study from The Ge­orge In­sti­tute for Global Health at Univer­sity of Ox­ford, the health records of 59 202 heart fail­ure pa­tients were ex­am­ined.

Re­searchers found that pa­tients who were vac­ci­nated against in­fluenza were 27 per cent less likely to be hos­pi­talised for heart fail­ure com­pli­ca­tions.

Un­like most vac­ci­na­tions that tar­get one type of in­fec­tion, there are many strains or types of in­fluenza. Each year sci­en­tists pre­dict what type will be most com­mon and rec­om­mend an an­nual vac­ci­na­tion against that strain.

The un­cer­tainty about which type of in­fluenza will dom­i­nate means the vac­cine is not al­ways highly ef­fec­tive. On av­er­age, the ef­fec­tive­ness of the an­nual in­fluenza vac­cine is 50 to 70 per cent.

In­ter­est­ingly, even when in­fluenza vac­ci­na­tions are not 100 per cent ef­fec­tive against the flu, they still pro­vide pro­tec­tion against heart dis­ease.

One study shows that pa­tients whose vac­ci­na­tion failed to pre­vent an in­fluenza-like ill­ness had lower rates of car­dio­vas­cu­lar events com­pared to peo­ple who were not vac­ci­nated.

Sim­i­larly, a 2017 study by pub­lished in the jour­nal Clin­i­cal In­fec­tious Dis­eases re­ported that even when in­fluenza vac­ci­na­tion fails to pre­vent the flu, the sever­ity of the in­fec­tion is less and there are fewer com­pli­ca­tions.

The health ben­e­fits of the flu shot are clear and widely sup­ported by re­search. Most coun­tries rec­om­mend an­nual in­fluenza vac­ci­na­tions, es­pe­cially for high-risk groups like se­niors, chil­dren un­der five years of age and peo­ple with chronic med­i­cal con­di­tions like heart dis­ease.

Canada has set a tar­get of 80 per cent in­fluenza vac­ci­na­tion cov­er­age for se­niors with chronic med­i­cal con­di­tions. Ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics Canada, 32 per cent of se­niors in this group re­ceived a flu shot in 2013-2014.

In Europe, fewer than half of peo­ple in high-risk groups re­ceive a flu shot and sim­i­larly low rates are re­ported in the United States and Aus­tralia.

Why are in­fluenza vac­ci­na­tion rates so low? The prop­a­ga­tion of myths and mis­con­cep­tions about the risks and ben­e­fits of vac­ci­na­tion through so­cial me­dia is a sig­nif­i­cant driver.

Mis­in­for­ma­tion about the flu shot is in­creas­ingly caus­ing peo­ple to ques­tion its value. Ad­di­tion­ally, peo­ple in low-risk groups may de­cline to get a flu shot be­cause of a sense of in­vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

While it's true that healthy peo­ple are at low risk for com­pli­ca­tions from in­fluenza, de­clin­ing vac­ci­na­tion puts oth­ers at risk.

Healthy peo­ple who are not vac­ci­nated in­crease the chances of con­tract­ing the flu and pass­ing it along to high-risk in­di­vid­u­als. Vac­ci­na­tion of healthy, low-risk in­di­vid­u­als is cru­cial to main­tain­ing the health of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, a phe­nom­e­non called 'herd im­mu­nity.'

This flu sea­son, roll up your sleeve and get a flu shot. Do it for your heart. Bon Jovi would tell you that any­thing else is just Bad Medicine.


VAC­CINE: Glen Pyle is a pro­fes­sor who spe­cialises in heart fail­ure at the Univer­sity of Guelph in Canada. He ex­plains why rates of heart at­tack are higher in those who don't get the flu shot.

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