Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Take a shot against heart disease

Heart Beat

Take a shot against heart disease

Heart disease deaths seem to follow flu outbreaks like Jeff follows Mutt. How closely connected are they? Researchers in Houston and St. Petersburg, Russia, compared weekly deaths from heart disease "" all confirmed by autopsy "" in St. Petersburg between 1993 and 2000. In each year, the peak of heart disease deaths coincided perfectly with the peak of flu and respiratory infections.

At the time this study was done, few people in Russia were vaccinated against the flu or were taking heart-protecting statins. Do the results apply here? Indeed, they do. In spite of aggressive vaccination campaigns, a University of Alabama study showed that barely half of people with heart disease get a yearly flu shot. That's one reason influenza remains a killer, responsible for causing more than 90,000 deaths a year by triggering heart attacks and strokes.

Who needs the flu shot?

Get a yearly influenza vaccine if any of the following applies to you:

  • You are over 50.

  • You have heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, chronic lung disease, or immune system problems.

  • You live with or care for someone at high risk of getting the flu.

  • You work in a hospital, nursing home, doctor's office, or other health care setting.

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