Flu Shots

Physician-scientists at the Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital (THI at St. Luke’s) are urging people to receive the influenza vaccination as we enter the winter flu season, particularly cardiac patients for whom the vaccine can help significantly reduce heart attack risks.

“Heart patients should definitely get the vaccine this and every year,” said Dr. Mohammad Madjid, a THI senior research scientist. “Our research has shown that influenza epidemics are associated with a rise in coronary deaths. Between 10 and 20 percent of people catch the flu every year, and I have estimated that we can prevent up to 90,000 coronary deaths a year in the U.S. if every high-risk patient received an annual flu vaccination.”

It’s also good to follow CDC recommendations and ensure that family members and other household contacts of high-risk patients receive the vaccine, pointed out Dr. James T. Willerson, THI’s President and Medical Director.

Dr. Madjid, along with Dr. S. Ward Casscells, has conducted significant research which established that influenza can trigger heart attacks. Their research has demonstrated a process in which some respiratory infections brought on by influenza in high-risk patients, such as the elderly, can trigger “exaggerated inflammation.” This can then cascade within the body creating vulnerable plaques within the arteries that, in turn, can lead to heart attacks (Myocardial Infarctions) or strokes.

It has been determined that receiving the influenza vaccine can cut this risk of heart attacks by up to 20 percent.

These studies led to official recommendation by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology to vaccinate subjects with coronary artery disease against influenza.

More recent studies by Drs. Madjid and Casscells have shown that use of antiviral therapy against influenza (Oseltamivir) can further decrease the risk of stroke and heart attacks in susceptible patients after they have the influenza infection. If that is the case, Dr. Madjid advises patients to contact their physicians in the first 48 hours after onset of their influenza symptoms to see if they might benefit from antiviral therapy.

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