Getting a flu jab could slash the risk of middle-aged people suffering a heart attack or stroke, a study has found.
Vaccinated over-50s were 28 per cent less likely to have a heart attack and faced a 47 per cent lower chance of a mini-stroke.
Scientists called the results — based on data from 7million people — ‘staggering’ and said they shine a light on how beneficial the flu jab can be.
It protects against falling sick with the flu but also the life-threatening complications that come with it.
Being infected with influenza can put the body under an immense amount of stress, which in rare cases may lead to heart attacks and strokes.
But many people are unaware of these severe dangers, doctors say, and don’t bother getting vaccinated.
It comes after research yesterday suggested flu vaccines may reduce the chance of developing Alzheimer’s.
Over 50s could avoid a potentially fatal heart attack or stroke by having the flu jab, a study has found (stock)
The research, by Texas Tech University, looked at more than seven million American adults over the age of 50.
All had been hospitalised at some point and were part of the 2014 National Inpatient Sample, the largest database of US hospitals.
Participants were noted as particularly vulnerable to flu because they were over the of age 50, had HIV/AIDS, lived in nursing homes or were obese.
Experts examined cardiovascular outcomes between patients who got vaccinated during hospitalisation and those who did not.
FLU PROGRAMME EXTENDED DURING COVID-19
The Government plans to double its winter flu vaccination programme to 30million people this year, with free jabs for all over-50s and children aged up to 11.
Last year, around 15million people received a jab against seasonal flu but ministers hope this will rise to 30million this winter.
Experts are concerned about the impact of a double-whammy of Covid-19 cases and seasonal flu potentially overwhelming the NHS.
There are also worries that people could suffer both seasonal flu and Covid-19 at the same time.
So the Department of Health and Social Care hopes that an increase in people getting flu vaccines means there will be fewer flu patients taking up space in hospitals and the NHS will have more time to deal with coronavirus patients.
The jab is usually offered to over-65s, nursery and primary school children, and pregnant women or people with health conditions such as asthma.
As part of an unprecedented drive, a free flu vaccine will this year also be available to:
- People who are on the Shielded Patient List and members of their household;
- All school year groups up to Year 7;
- People aged over 65, pregnant women, those with pre-existing conditions including at-risk under 2s.
The adults aged 50 and over who were vaccinated had better outcomes in the year following vaccination.
They had a 28 per cent lower risk of heart attack, a 47 per cent lower risk of TIA — a ‘mini stroke’ — and an 85 per cent lower risk of cardiac arrest.
Similar trends were seen across people in the other high-risk groups, but these findings have not been reported yet.
There is evidence that heart attacks and strokes happen more often during or immediately after an acute inflammatory illness, such as flu, but it is not common.
Any lung disease puts a strain on the vascular system, so to lower the risk of heart disease or stroke, prevention of flu could help.
One large study in 2007 found winter infections like flu can double the risk of heart attacks and strokes, with sufferers twice as likely to be affected in the week after getting infected.
The comprehensive study was undertaken by scientists from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s Medical Statistics Unit who examined two million patients registered with approximately 500 GPs.
Among about 11,000 cases of heart attacks, 84 people had a respiratory infection the week before (0.8 per cent) and in the controls, compared with 34 of the 11,000 people in the control group (0.3 per cent).
Flu vaccination has already been linked with lower rates of cardiac events among people with heart disease, who have a greater risk of becoming more seriously ill from the flu than the general population.
The early results of the latest study, led by Roshni Mandania, were presented at the virtual American Heart Association’s Basic Cardiovascular Sciences 2020 Scientific Sessions.
Ms Mandania said: ‘The results we found are staggering. It’s hard to ignore the positive effect the flu vaccine can have on serious cardiac complications.
‘Some people don’t view flu vaccinations as necessary or important, and many may face barriers accessing health care including receiving the flu vaccine.’
DO FLU JABS CUT THE RISK OF ALZHEIMER’S?
Flu vaccines could reduce the chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease, research suggested yesterday.
A study of 9,000 people found those who had just a single flu vaccine were 17 per cent less likely to have Alzheimer’s than those who had never been vaccinated.
And those who had their flu jab every year saw their risk reduce by a further 13 per cent.
Experts described the finding as ‘intriguing’ – but were left puzzled as to exactly how vaccination against influenza reduces the risk of dementia.
Some believe the jab may help boost the general immune system – offering the brain some protection when it is vulnerable to decline.
There is also a possibility that a major infection such as a bad bout of the flu may hasten the onset of dementia among those already at risk.
Doctors stress that anyone at risk of dementia – especially the elderly – should get vaccinated against flu regardless of this study.
Of the seven million patients studied, just 168,325 — or 2.4 per cent — had received the flu vaccine.
Vaccination rates were lower in the high-risk groups than the general population, the preliminary findings show.
Adults age 50 and over were significantly less likely to be vaccinated compared to the general population (1.8 per cent versus 15.3 per cent).
The vaccination rate for patients with HIV/AIDS was 2.21 per cent versus 8.2 per cent who were free from the virus or disease.
Just 1.8 per cent of nursing home residents got their jab, compared to 9.5 per cent among those who live independently.
And among obese patients, just 2.4 per cent were vaccinated, compared to nine per cent of adults deemed to be of a healthy weight.
It’s possible some individuals may have got the flu vaccine in an outpatient setting, and therefore not be recorded in the hospital data.
‘Nevertheless, our study highlights the marked under-underutilization of flu vaccine in high-risk groups and underscores the need for a health care policy initiative to increase flu vaccinations among all patients and especially in high-risk groups,’ Mandania said.
Dr Eduardo Sanchez, American Heart Association’s chief medical officer for prevention, said: ‘All adults and all children, by and large, should be getting influenza vaccinations year after year.
‘In particular, for patients who have chronic diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes or emphysema, it is critically important to get the annual flu vaccine.
‘The potentially serious complications of the flu are far, far greater for those with chronic diseases.’