Thousands of people failing to get their annual influenza jab could be placing themselves at greater risk of a heart attack.
American and Russian scientists have published a study in today's European Heart Journal claiming that an acute myocardial infarction (AMI) – better known as a heart attack - is three times more likely to take place during an influenza epidemic.
They claim that the acute inflammation flu causes on the body can in some cases destabilise plaques in coronary arteries, prompting heart attacks.
As a result Professor Mohammad Madjid of the University of Texas-Houston, the report's lead author, said that those declining flu jabs were increasing their risk to heart disease.
"Currently, people are not practising as we preach, and doctors need to work to change this," he said.
"My public health message is that flu is an important killer in cardiac patients. If people can recognise that the flu vaccine has specific cardioprotective effects, then high-risk people will be more likely to make sure that they receive the influenza vaccine every year."
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) pointed out that heart patients in the UK are already offered flu jabs as a high priority – unlike in the US where up to 90,000 people could be placing themselves in danger.
BHF heart nurse Cathy Ross said today's study added to research conducted at University College London showing that flu can trigger a heart attack or stroke in those at increased risk of stroke.
"Making sure people at risk are given flu vaccinations, along with appropriate heart-protective medication such as statins, is vital to help to reduce the number of heart attack victims," she said.
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