Flu vaccine’s unexpected heart benefits

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Flu shots can stop you from getting the flu. Can they also stop you from having a heart attack?

That’s the intriguing suggestion by Dr. Jacob Udell of the University of Toronto and colleagues, who gave a recent presentation at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress, demonstrating a surprising 48 percent reduction in major adverse cardiovascular events (heart attack or sudden death, or stroke) among over 3000 patients culled from 4 separate trials,  conducted from 1994 to 2008. All the qualified trials involved randomized prospective studies in which roughly half the patients — some of whom had pre-existing vascular disease and some of whom did not — received flu shots, and half did not. After one year, the number of serious events was found to be one-half as common among the vaccine recipients as compared to the non-vaccinated half.

The author’s evaluation: “There are no pills out there that reduce your risk by 50%. It is a profound finding, and if that’s actually the case, this stuff should be in the water.” However, he argued, “even if the advantage were a 10% reduction, you still would have a major improvement in cardiovascular clinical prevention, as well as cost-effectiveness and burden on the healthcare system.”

However, he argued, “even if the advantage were a 10% reduction, you still would have a major improvement in cardiovascular clinical prevention, as well as cost-effectiveness and burden on the healthcare system.”

“Of course, despite Dr. Udell’s somewhat breathless self-evaluation, this study alone does not prove that the vaccine itself was the cause of the reduction in vascular events,” says ACSH’s Dr. GIlbert Ross. “But there are two theories which might explain such an effect: Perhaps patients with cardiovascular risk factors who are protected from getting respiratory infections will subsequently have fewer severe episodes that might lead to heart attack or stroke. Alternatively, some believe that reducing systemic inflammation that can accompany an influenza illness lowers the likelihood that it may trigger rupture of vulnerable plaque.  Either way, we’ve said it before and say it again: Get your flu shot as soon as possible!”

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