Flu season is around the corner, and soon, several clinics across the country will publicly offer free influenza vaccines to protect us against the virus. If you’ve been a faithful AllAndAbouter for a while, you probably know how important it is to get the vaccine, if you can. But, if you need an extra kick of encouragement to book your appointment, read on!
A study recently presented in the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress 2019 suggests that people with high blood pressure who get vaccinated against the flu are less likely to die than those who don’t.
Past research has shown that the stress contracting the flu puts on the body could raise the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Plus, high blood pressure (hypertension) patients have a heightened risk of both cardiovascular events. Because of this, researchers had suggested that preventing flu infection could protect against these outcomes, but this theory hadn’t been studied.
So, to investigate the potential link, researchers looked at Danish healthcare registers containing information from over 600,000 hypertension patients across Denmark, aged 18 to 100. The data collected from the records spanned nine flu seasons; from 2007 to 2016. The researchers used the data to find out how many patients got their flu vaccines before each season and how many died. They noted the percentages of all-cause deaths, deaths from any cardiovascular disease and deaths specifically caused by heart attack or stroke.
Then, they analysed the relationship between getting vaccinated before the flu season and the likelihood of dying during the season.
The analysis took into account patients’ circumstances that could affect this risk, such as having other conditions (co-morbidities), taking certain medications, age and socioeconomic status.
After accounting for patient differences, researchers found that in a given flu season, patients who got the vaccine were 18 per cent less likely to die from all causes. Getting the vaccine was also linked to a 16 and 10 per cent reduced risk of death from any cardiovascular disease and death from a heart attack or stroke, respectively.
The study’s lead author, Daniel Modin, research associate of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, said that the study showed that the flu vaccine could “improve cardiovascular outcomes” for people with hypertension. Mr Modin also noted that the vaccine coverage in the nine years studied had ranged from 29 to 36 per cent. He said that this meant that many people living with high blood pressure did not get the vaccine.
How are the flu and cardiovascular diseases linked?
Mr Modin said that the immune responses that fight the flu could make having a heart attack or stroke more likely.
He said that this is because heart attacks and strokes are caused by the rupture of plaques in the arteries. According to him, those ruptured plaques cause blood clots that cut the blood supply to the brain and heart. He said that it is thought that the inflammation caused by contracting the flu causes arterial plaques to be less stable and more likely to rupture.
Mr Modin believes that the study’s results show that people with high blood pressure should get the flu vaccine every year.
He said: “Vaccination is safe, cheap, readily available, and decreases influenza infection. On top of that, our study suggests that it could also protect against fatal heart attacks and strokes and deaths from other causes.”
Get your flu vaccine; it’s what the researcher (and doctors!) ordered.
Written By: Tesneem Ayoub
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