It's going to be a bad flu season this year...
After years of folks working from home and avoiding social gatherings, things are feeling almost normal again.
People are getting back into the office, planes are packed with travelers, and it's likely people will be getting together for the holidays.
For most of my life around the holidays, I was the first one to share food and drinks – and utensils and glasses – with friends and family.
You won't catch me doing that anymore. Longtime subscribers know that one of my top dozen health tips each year is to refrain from sharing glasses and utensils during cold and flu season. That's because it's one of the easiest ways to get cold sores, a cold, or the flu.
But the danger is greater than just sharing some germs...
Turns out, getting the flu increases your risk of having a heart attack.
Fighting off influenza stresses your immune system and increases inflammation, particularly in your blood vessels.
More and more studies show that increases in inflammation lead to blockages... which ultimately leads to heart attacks or strokes.
What's more, the flu causes your blood vessels to leak fluid, which builds up in your lungs. That fluid may start to grow bacteria, causing deadly infections. It also means you're getting less oxygen into your blood, which in turn puts a strain on your heart.
A 2018 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine looked at documented cases of the flu with proper laboratory confirmation. Researchers then looked at these patients over the course of a year prior to their diagnosis of flu and a year after.
What they found is that for the seven-day period after a flu diagnosis, people are six times more likely to suffer a heart attack. That was regardless of any present risk factors for heart disease.
Fortunately, getting the flu vaccine can help protect you.
This past April, a review of six randomized clinical trials, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that the flu vaccine can reduce the risk of having a major cardiovascular event – like a heart attack or a stroke – by 34%. And for folks who had experienced sudden, reduced blood flow to the heart prior to the study, receiving the flu vaccine – as opposed to a placebo – reduced their risk of having a major cardiovascular event by 45%.
But what about long-term protection?
It turns out that when your body creates antibodies to the flu vaccine, those antibodies flip on a receptor in our heart. It's called the bradykinin b2 receptor. The protein it works with, bradykinin, is an inflammatory marker. Triggering this receptor reduces inflammation and seemingly protects heart tissue.
Researchers are now studying different types of flu vaccines to develop a possible vaccine for heart disease. This is really exciting stuff.
Regular readers and friends know that I've long thought that most diseases we face are infectious. I've been laughed at because of my thoughts about the connection between infection and diseases like heart disease and age-related macular degeneration. Finally, others are beginning to see what I've been saying.
The vaccine also offers some protection against getting the flu, though some folks are quick to point out low effectiveness rates. These rates don't measure one important outcome, though – fewer hospitalizations and deaths. You might still get the flu, but the vaccine will reduce your symptoms and help you avoid the most serious outcomes.
As we get into flu season, consider getting your vaccine. I still advise that if you're a healthy adult – without heart disease risk factors – chances are you don't need the vaccine. Our immune systems are built to fight off such illnesses. But if you're in a group that's at a higher risk for complications, you should get a flu shot. That includes:
- Folks aged 65 and older
- Those with a compromised immune system (including autoimmune diseases like Crohn's and those undergoing cancer treatments)
- Those who have heart disease or are at risk of heart attack
- Pregnant women
- Babies and young children
Similarly, if you're around someone who falls into one of those groups, consider getting a vaccine. For instance, if you're caring for someone recovering from chemotherapy, you don't want to risk exposing them. Complications for these folks can be life-threatening or fatal.
What We're Reading...
- Three ways to survive cold and flu season.
- Something different: Katrina Spade is transforming death care with a process called "recomposition."
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
September 6, 2022