Volume 20, Number 4

The Bridge

           December 2003

By Judy Nance, R.N.

The inexpensive flu shot may also cut heart attack and stroke risk. Dr. Paul Glezen, head epidemiologist at Baylor College of Medicine’s influenza Research Center, says cardiologists should take a leading role in advocating flu shots. Dr. Mohammad Madjid, at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston said influenza immunizations could prevent up to 91,000 heart attack and stroke deaths a year, but fewer than 30% of people at risk for dying of cardiovascular disease receive the vaccine.

Flu is thought to trigger heart attacks and strokes by destabilizing fatty deposits clinging to artery walls. Inflammation caused by the flu can help blood clots form around the fatty deposits, or the infection can cause one of the deposits to break apart, ultimately blocking a blood vessel and setting off a stroke or heart attack.

A growing body of research has shown that flu shots reduce heart attack risk by 50% to 67%. Other studies show influenza vaccination may cut stroke risk in half. In comparison, statin drugs, which lower blood cholesterol, reduce cardiovascular disease deaths by 30% on average.

Madjid and his colleagues estimate that flu shots could prevent as many as 91,000 of each year’s 729,000 deaths from stroke and heart attack, a number that far exceeds the traditional estimates, 20,000 per year, of flu related deaths. (Information for article from the Arizona Republic Newspaper, 11/14/03)