HEART HEALTH

How the Flu Affects People with Heart Disease

Get a flu shot early and often

December 2nd through the 8th is National Influenza Vaccination Week. Established by the CDC in 2005, this week stresses the importance of getting your flu shot for peak season from December through February. The CDC reports that “among adults hospitalized with flu during the 2017-2018 influenza season, heart disease was among the most commonly-occurring chronic conditions; about half of adults hospitalized with flu during the 2017-2018 flu season had heart disease.” Dr. Brion Winston has a personal interest and medical background in public health. He shared his views on the importance of getting the flu shot this season.

Best time to get your vaccince

“The answer on when to get a flu shot is, early and often,” began Dr. Winston. “Earlier in the season to avoid the first outbreak and continue vaccination throughout your life.” Flu vaccines are developed based on the findings of the virus from the previous season. Recommendations are made for both the northern and southern hemisphere. The vaccinations are based on two main surface proteins that change and shift from year to year, and season to season. These proteins change and move gradually, allowing the research to develop the vaccines with a reasonably good prediction of effectiveness. Although not always perfect. The effectiveness of the vaccine can range from as low as 10%, which is uncommon and to greater than 50% effective in most years.

There is also a benefit in getting the flu vaccine over your life. A first-time recipient does receive as much protection as someone who has had the previously received it. “This relates to immunological memory, which we have, that if you encounter the flu virus, your body will mount a better response,” stated Dr. Winston. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against flu to develop in the body. The CDC recommends getting your vaccine in October but getting your’s in January is still beneficial as the season is known to last through March.

What we have learned

“With the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, this was such a difficult time in the world during WW1, we learned that the shift in the virus wasn’t gradual, it was abrupt,” stated Dr. Winston. In 1918-1919, the flu outbreak took an estimated 675,000 American lives. It was the most severe pandemic in recent history, sweeping the globe quickly and killing more than 50 million people. “There were massive changes in the surface proteins, such that the existing antibodies didn’t do much good for the strain. That is the explanation of how pandemic flu that can devastate entire communities.”

What we have learned

“With the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, this was such a difficult time in the world during WW1, we learned that the shift in the virus wasn’t gradual, it was abrupt,” stated Dr. Winston. In 1918-1919, the flu outbreak took an estimated 675,000 American lives. It was the most severe pandemic in recent history, sweeping the globe quickly and killing more than 50 million people. “There were massive changes in the surface proteins, such that the existing antibodies didn’t do much good for the strain. That is the explanation of how pandemic flu that can devastate entire communities.”

Red Cross Volunteers
Motor Corps and Canteen volunteers from the Detroit chapter of the American Red Cross, taking a break from delivering supplies to flu victims. To prepare Detroit for what was to come from the pandemic, the Red Cross and Department of Health nurses cooperated together for home visits, food preparation, and childcare.

The medical community also learned how the flu survives. “We would understand this as the term as a reservoir,” started Dr. Winston. “What is the pool of this virus? There are two main ways to look at this: the human reservoir, where the virus remains in the population, at a lower rate, even during the warmer months. The flu is also present in animals and poultry.”

Influenza starts as what is known as a zoonosis, it originates in animals, in pigs and poultry. The genetic make-up of the virus freely intermingles with the genome that is present in human influenza; this is the way that over the seasons the virus changes. When we go indoors and are in closer contact with each other during the winter, this is the perfect environment for the virus to spread.

People who get the flu shot lower their heart attack risk by about 36%

Dr. Winston pointed out that, “When you have a severe infection that puts a strain on your body’s demand, with a higher temperature also goes a higher heart rate and demand on your cardiovascular system. Basically that more significant work in fighting the infection makes you more susceptible to a heart attack.” Flu complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections can result in hospital stays. Patients with asthma may experience increase asthma attacks while they have the flu. “It’s interesting in that the flu is only very rarely directly toxic to the heart. Where it directly affects the heart’s arteries or muscle, those tend to be the fatal case.”

Specific Health Actions for People with Heart Disease or who have had a Stroke

The CDC recommends:
• Maintain a two week supply of your regular medications during flu season.
• Do not stop taking your regular medications without first consulting your doctor, especially in the event that you get the flu or another respiratory infection.
• People with heart failure should be alert to changes in their breathing and should promptly report changes to their doctor.
• If you get sick with flu symptoms call your doctor right away.

Extra prevention

Surprisingly, the CDC recommends very simple steps to prevent the risk of flu: frequent washing of your hands (at least 15 seconds with warm water and soap), avoiding contact with people with the flu, minimizing touching your nose, mouth, and eyes. It’s expected that Americans will spend over $2 billion supplements to boost immunity this flu season. “People will take high doses of Vitamin C, it’s been studied many times to show no benefit,” said Dr. Winston. “Echinacea may have a small amount of benefit to people, but you have a risk of GI upset. Vaccination is the only way to avoid the flu.”

In America, vaccines are recommended for all people over six months of age. Even with warnings, education, and the thought of caring for a child with the flu for two weeks, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital reported that 34% percent of US parents said their child was unlikely to get the flu vaccine this year. Some of the reasons given in the online poll were that they were concerned about side effects, that the vaccine doesn’t work very well and that their currently healthy child does not need to be vaccinated.

Written by: Michael Arce, Media Specialist
Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.