Getting a flu shot can reduce the incidence of death, heart attack or unplanned procedures to open clogged heart arteries in patients with coronary artery disease, Polish researchers said Wednesday.
The study adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that people with heart trouble should get a flu shot every year.
“We know that people die of flu who have underlying cardiopulmonary disease. It’s only logical that if you are able to prevent flu with vaccine, you can prevent these deaths,” said Dr. Arnold Monto, professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan.
“Flu puts these people over the edge,” said Monto, who serves on the World Health Organization’s Influenza Pandemic task force.
The study, which was conducted in Poland and presented at the American Heart Association meeting in Chicago, involved 658 patients with coronary artery disease. Of those, 325 received an active flu vaccine and 333 received a placebo.
After 296 days, patients who did not receive the vaccine were nearly twice as likely to have a heart attack, undergo an unplanned angioplasty to open blocked arteries or die from heart-related causes.
Monto said the study was significant because it compared groups who received the vaccine and groups who did not.
He said such a trial would be considered unethical in the United States because of U.S. guidelines recommending that heart patients get flu shots.
Flu is responsible for 36,000 deaths and 225,000 hospitalizations in the United States each year, yet only one in three adults with heart disease got flu shots last year, according to the American College of Cardiology.
“The study reinforces the principle that patients who have underlying cardiac disease — particularly coronary artery disease — are somewhat protected by having the influenza vaccine,” said Dr. Leroy Rabbani, a cardiologist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York,
Rabbani said other studies have shown a link between inflammation and heart attacks. “Anything that can decrease the opportunity for infection such as flu vaccine will be beneficial,” he said.
The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology in September issued a scientific advisory asking heart doctors to give flu shots to their patients.
Coronary artery disease occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become hardened and narrowed. It is the most common type of heart disease and the leading cause of death in the United States in both men and women.