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Flu vaccination linked to lower heart attack risk

By News team

Vaccination against influenza might help reduce the risk of heart attack, new research has suggested (Heart Online, 21 August 2013).

The study has received widespread media coverage but the Department of Health has emphasised that a protective effect is not proven.

The data come from an Australian case control study that was designed to assess whether flu is a significant precipitant of acute myocardial infarction (AMI). Cases were 275 in-patients with AMI during three flu seasons; controls were 284 outpatients with a different medical problem. Swabs and blood samples were taken to assess whether patients had recently had flu; vaccination history was also recorded.

When confounders (such as age, high cholesterol and smoking) were taken into account there was no significant association between flu and MI. However, flu vaccination was associated with a reduced risk of AMI (odds ratio 0.55).

Discussing this discrepancy, the study authors say that the number of vaccinated subjects was far greater than the number with documented infection, so there was greater statistical power for examining the association of AMI with vaccination.

One theory is that infection might precipitate inflammation in diseased coronary arteries. "Even a small effect of influenza vaccination in preventing AMI may have significant population health gains," the researchers say. Extending flu vaccination programmes to adults over 50 years of age would capture a significant proportion of people at risk of AMI and should be explored by further research, they say.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2013.11124889

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