22nd September 2010, 11:51am
Seasonal flu vaccine lowers risk of first heart attack
A patient is given a vaccination Patients who have the seasonal flu vaccine in the autumn could reduce their chances of suffering a first heart attack by more than a fifth, a new study by the University of Lincoln suggests.

As heart attacks increase significantly in winter when pneumonia and flu are prevalent, it has been suggested there may be a link between respiratory infections and heart attacks.

Professor Niro Siriwardena, from Lincoln's School of Health and Social Care, and co-authors Stella Gwini, from NHS Lincolnshire, and Carol Coupland, from the University of Nottingham, looked at data on 78,706 patients aged 40 years or older from 379 family practices in England and Wales. Of those patients, 16,012 had suffered a heart attack.

They found that influenza vaccination within the past year was associated with a significantly reduced (19 per cent) rate of first heart attack.

Early vaccination for influenza (between September and mid-November) was associated with a higher (21 per cent) reduction in the rate of heart attacks compared with late vaccination, which was associated with a 12 per cent reduction. Pneumococcal vaccination showed no additional benefit.

The study was published in the CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

"Our findings reinforce current recommendations for annual influenza vaccination of target groups, with a potential added benefit for prevention of acute myocardial infarction in those without established cardiovascular disease," said Prof Siriwardena. "This benefit may lead to an increase in suboptimal rates of vaccination, particularly among younger patients."

Because people with risk factors for heart attacks were more likely to be vaccinated than those with no risk factors, the researchers adjusted for possible bias in the sample.

They concluded that if additional research shows a similar effect, it could lead to changes in the recommended indications for and timing of vaccinations.

For more information on the study, visit: http://www.cmaj.ca/
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