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Flu shots may reduce heart disease risk

Published On: Nov 28 2012 06:00:00 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 29 2012 05:35:41 PM CST

Flu shots could go way beyond just preventing the aches, fever and fatigue that come with the influenza virus.

Flu shots could go way beyond just preventing the aches, fever and fatigue that come with the influenza virus. New research shows it may be your heart that reaps the benefits, too.

Flu season for the Lehigh Valley generally starts in January and lasts through March. But Chief of Infectious Disease at St. Luke's Dr. Jeffrey Jahre says getting the shot now is better than later.

"It's something that everyone should really take advantage of," he said. "And not only to protect yourself but to protect those who are near and dear to you who might be at higher risk."

According to the CDC the flu causes more than 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations each year in the U.S. For some patients, the vaccine might do more than just keep them flu-free.

"Prevention is always better then cure, so if you can prevent influenza then you prevent the complications from influenza," added Jahre.

New studies find the shot may protect patients with heart disease against deadly heart attacks and strokes.

"With the inflammation that is caused by influenza you may have increased plaque formation within the vessels that might actually enhance your ability to have a complete heart attack or stroke," explained Jahre.

Research shows up to 91,000 Americans die from heart attacks and strokes caused by the flu every year, yet less than half of those with high risk heart conditions get flu shots. According to the new evidence, when patients with heart disease get flu shots their risk for heart attacks and strokes is cut by about half over the next year. And risk of death goes down by about 40%.

"So no influenza, then no pneumonia related to influenza, no stress related to influenza and thereby no increased tendency for heart attack or stroke from that disease," said Jahre.

There is plenty of flu vaccine this year and plenty of places to get it. Doctors recommend the vaccine to anyone 6-months and older.