Influenza Increases Heart Attack Risk

Flu season is progressing toward its peak in January and as the winter continues — the risk increases for people with heart disease. As Laurie Johnson reports — Houston researchers find the flu can increase the chance of heart attacks.

Everyone is supposed to get the influenza vaccine. But it’s even more critical for people with heart disease or cardiac problems.

Dr. Mohammad Madjid is a senior research scientist at the Texas Heart Institute. He says every year 10-20 percent of the population gets the flu and multiple studies show influenza can cause severe complications in cardiac patients.

“The build-up of the plaques inside the coronary arteries of the heart is mainly an inflammatory process. And influenza is an acute infection and very well-known to cause severe inflammation in the body. So when somebody already has heart disease or has multiple risk factors for it and gets influenza there is a fair chance that he or she develops inflammation in their coronary arteries which can lead to heart attack.”

Dr. Madjid’s research team worked with a scientific center in Russia to study 35,000 autopsies from influenza season.

“And we saw that over eight years during every influenza epidemic every year right at the top of the influenza epidemic we had more people dying of heart attack, almost 20 percent extra deaths due to heart disease. So there is a clear message that flu can be a killer and can be very lethal in these situations.”

Influenza can be fatal for more than just cardiac patients. It kills an average of 36,000 people every year in the United
States. But it’s also preventable. This year, for the first time ever, the CDC recommends everyone get the vaccine.

“Unfortunately over the past decade the rate of influenza vaccine in people with heart disease has stayed less than 60 percent, and we haven’t seen a significant rise in it.”

It’s a relatively low rate of inoculation for high-risk patients. Madjid says getting the vaccine can reduce the risk of
heart attack by 20 percent. And he says because influenza is so contagious, anyone who is around heart patients should be vaccinated too.


Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson


Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Laurie has covered a wide variety of topics for HPM, including the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and numerous elections. She is a frequent contributor to NPR and has been...

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