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Q.

Is there evidence showing the flu vaccine may help prevent heart attacks and strokes?

I saw a brief note about this from Cleveland Clinics, referring to a study done by the Canadian Cardiovascular COngress. 

 

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Family Medicine
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A.

This is a great question! You are probably referring to a presentation that was made at the 2012 Canadian Cardiovascular Congress by Dr. Jacob Udell from the University of Toronto.  Dr. Udell gave the results of his research involving over 3000 patients. About half of them had existing heart disease and the other half did not. The influenza vaccine had been given to about one half of the participants. The other group received a placebo or harmless fake vaccine. Results after one year showed that those who had received the real vaccine were about half as likely to have had a stroke, a heart attack or death due to a heart problem.  These results were exciting and very interesting. However, the research looked at only 4 small studies done between 1994 and 2008.  Also, the total number of people that had a stroke, heart attack or cardiac death was very small. Researchers are now trying to construct a larger study to confirm the results. 

It is a known fact that the flu can be associated with worsening of existing lung and heart disease. It seems logical that anything that would decrease the risk of getting the flu would therefore reduce the risk for these complications.  But more research is needed to draw firm conclusions. 

We do know that over 200,000 American are hospitalized each year with complications from influenza. And that there are between 3,000 and 49,000 flu-related deaths annually. 

The CDC now recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months should get the flu vaccine. Check with your doctor if you have not already had one this year.

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