People with heart failure who get an annual flu vaccine cut their risk of dying during flu season by 50 percent, says a study from the American College of Cardiology. The benefit lingers through the rest of the year, giving a 20 percent decrease in the risk of death.
The study is the first to examine the relationship between influenza vaccination and death or hospitalization in heart failure patients through meta-analysis — analyzing multiple studies together.
While influenza and flu-related complications can cause death even in otherwise healthy people, the risk is higher in people with heart failure, a condition in which the heart becomes too weak to pump an adequate amount of blood. About 6.5 million U.S. adults have heart failure.
Researchers analyzed six studies with combined data for more than 78,000 patients with heart failure. When taken together, they showed that getting the flu vaccine reduced the risk of dying (from any cause) by about half during flu season and by about one-fifth during the rest of the year.
Those vaccinated also were 22 percent less likely to be hospitalized for cardiovascular problems.
“It is well known that influenza infection is associated with increased risk for mortality in heart failure patients,” said lead author cardiologist Hidekatsu Fukuta. “Given the high mortality rate and the relatively low influenza vaccination rates in heart failure patients worldwide, our study supports a wider use of influenza vaccination in heart failure patients.”
But getting the vaccine may actually help spread the flu virus, says a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers studied volunteers with flu-like symptoms and found that when they sneezed, those who had been vaccinated emitted 630 percent more “aerosolized flu virus particles” — the particles than can infect other people — than those who had not received the flu vaccine.
The studies come at the end of a particularly robust flu season in which the vaccine was judged to be only 25 percent effective. The FDA admitted that the vaccine was even less effective in those 65 and older — only 17 percent.
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