Influenza and Heart Attack

Annual influenza vaccinations for adults aged 50-64 can not only help protect against heart attacks, but can save millions of dollars in health costs.

Immunisation Coalition

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Evidence from several studies indicates that annual vaccination against seasonal influenza reduces cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in patients with cardiovascular conditions. Studies indicate that the influenza vaccine almost halves the risk of heart attacks in older adults. [1][2]

“The Immunisation Coalition recommends influenza vaccination for patients with Acute Coronary Syndromes (ACS) prior to discharge from hospital and as part of comprehensive secondary prevention in persons with coronary and other atherosclerotic vascular disease. Healthcare providers, including specialists, who treat individuals with cardiovascular disease can help improve influenza vaccination coverage rates by asking about vaccination status, strongly recommending and providing vaccination before and throughout the influenza season.”

Prof Raina MacIntyre, University of University of New South Wales and member of the Immunisation Coalition

“Influenza poses a serious threat to the heart which is not well understood. The virus causes a number of mechanisms that may lead to a blockage in the coronary arteries, including the inflammatory release of cytokines, disruption to atherosclerotic plaques and tachycardia.”

Associate Professor Tim Tan, Cardiologist, Blacktown Hospital

 

2019 was Australia’s worst flu season on record reaching well over 300,000 recorded laboratory confirmed cases. Research has found investing in the influenza vaccination to protect against heart attack (acute myocardial infarction) in adults aged 50-64 could save the Australian government up to $31.4 million. While influenza is recognised as causing pneumonia, hospitalisations and death – what is less known is its role in triggering a heart attack. There is clear evidence to show heart attacks and cardiac deaths increase during the influenza season.[1][2]

This research is one of the first economic evaluations of the protective effect of influenza vaccination on myocardial infarction in Australia, led by an independent team at University of New South Wales. It uncovered the significant value of extending the National Immunisation Program (NIP) and providing the influenza vaccination to adults aged 50-64 as a preventive measure for heart attack and respiratory hospitalisations.

The research shows that extending vaccination each year has the potential to prevent:

  • 1,482 heart attacks
  • 314 cases of influenza/pneumonia
  • 338 respiratory hospitalisations
  • The cost savings would arise primarily from averted heart attack hospitalisations

“More Australians need to be encouraged to be vaccinated against influenza. The current rates of flu vaccination in high-risk groups under age 65 sits at just 30% which needs to change. Flu vaccinations should become a critical step in the management of cardiovascular disease and the prevention of heart attacks.”

Dr Rod Pearce, Adelaide GP and Chairman of the Immunisation Coalition

“It is important that people understand that symptoms of a heart attack (nausea, chills, aches, sweats) can be mistaken as signs of influenza and vice versa. It is important for healthcare providers to tell their patients to not take those symptoms lightly – especially when they have a history of cardiovascular disease”.

Bill Stravreski, General Manager Heart Health, Heart Foundation

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1 Ischaemic heart disease, influenza and influenza vaccination: a prospective case control study-MacIntyre CR, et al. Heart 2013; 99: 1843-1848

2 Acute myocardial infarction and influenza: a meta-analysis of case-control studies-Barnes M, et al. Heart 2015;0 1-10.

Additional resource: Influenza vaccine as a coronary intervention for prevention of myocardial infarction-MacIntyre CR, et al. Heart 2016;102: 1953-1956

Page Published: 19 August 2019 | Page Updated: 1 July 2020