Flu jab more heart protective than quitting smoking

cartoon heart dressed as doctor

The Immunisation Coalition has warned Australians about the increased and significant risk of heart attack associated with the flu

An estimated one in four lives lost this year to influenza will be related to coronary heart disease, the Coalition says.

More than 228,000 confirmed cases of flu and 486 deaths have been recorded in 2019.

The Coalition has made what it calls “the unprecedented move” of urging Australians to be vaccinated if they have not yet done so, while still in the middle of the peak flu season.

Many do not understand the link between heart disease and flu, it warns.

“The risk to our hearts from influenza is very high,” said Association Professor Tim Tan, from the Department of Cardiology at Blacktown Hospital.

“We know a person is six times more likely to have a heart attack the week following an influenza diagnosis, compared to the year before or after the infection.

 “We also know Australians who have not had a flu vaccination are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack compared to those who have been vaccinated.

“So it is critical those at risk – particularly with cardiovascular disease such as heart failure and those with a  previous heart attack; and chronic illness such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or diabetes, seek vaccination.

“Our significant concern is the rates of flu vaccination in the under 65s – which remain very low at just 30%. It’s important to act now – it’s not too late,” he said.

The Coalition highlighted research released earlier this month which showed that extending vaccination nationally to 50-64-year-olds (under the National Immunisation Program) could protect almost 1,500 Australians from having a heart attack and save the Government up to $31 million.

At the time this study was released, a spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild told the AJP that “In this year’s particularly bad flu season, we have seen hundreds of thousands of patients choosing the convenience of getting their flu vaccination at their local pharmacy, administered by a fully trained immunising pharmacist”.

The spokesperson called for pharmacist vaccination harmonisation across all Australian jurisdictions and wider NIP access in pharmacies.

The Immunisation Coalition highlighted that flu vaccination has been shown to reduce the risk of a heart attack by up to 45%, which brings it in line with other recognised cardiovascular prevention strategies – such as quitting smoking, which carries a 32-43% risk reduction.

Bill Stravreski, General Manager Heart Health, Heart Foundation says, “It’s important people also appreciate the symptoms of a heart attack such as nausea, chills, aches and sweats can masquerade as signs of influenza and vice versa. Any of these symptoms – particularly in at risk groups must not be taken lightly – especially where there is a history of cardiovascular disease. Medical attention should be sought immediately.”

“Flu vaccinations are a critical step in the management of cardiovascular disease, particularly for patients who have heart failure or who have had a heart attack. It’s important this is integrated into community health prevention programs and that eligible Australians with heart disease are well informed,” he added.

“It’s never too late to be vaccinated, we have seen the influenza season carry through well into summer,” said A/Prof Tan.

“I believe if you have not been vaccinated this year – particularly if you have risk factors such as heart disease, respiratory conditions, are a smoker or have diabetes, it is very important to act now for protection against influenza and also to protect your heart.”

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