Everyone over the age of 50 should be offered flu jab after a study found it halves the risk of a heart attack, researchers have suggested.
The Telegraph reports that the vaccine offers protection from heart attacks for people with narrowed arteries, according to a study in the journal Heart.
Those with chronic heart disease, such as heart failure, are already offered the yearly jab on the NHS, along with all those aged 65 and above. But researchers said UK authorities should now consider extending the programme to everyone aged 50 to 64, because heart disease is so common. The study found that middle-aged people with some evidence of heart disease could cut their risk of heart attack in half by having the flu jab. A team from Australia examined nose and throat swabs and blood samples for 559 patients over the age of 40, around half of whom had suffered a heart attack.
Previous research had suggested that flu may encourage blood to thicken or prompt an inflammatory response in arteries that are already narrowed, which could lead to a blockage and a heart attack.
The team from the University of New South Wales were investigating the link. However, their study suggested that while flu itself did not increase the risk of a heart attack, the jab itself appeared to have a protective effect, reducing the chance of a heart attack by 45 per cent.
The authors, from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, said: “Even a small effect of influenza vaccination in preventing (heart attacks) may have significant population health gains.
“The potential population health impact of influenza vaccination, particularly in the age group 50-64 years, who are at risk for (heart attack) but not targeted for vaccination, should be further explored.
“Our data should inform vaccination policy and cardiologists should be aware of missed opportunities to vaccinate individuals with ischaemic heart disease against influenza.”
Thembi Nkala, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “The flu can lead to serious illness, so getting your flu jab is vital if you have, or are at risk of, heart disease. It’s why many heart patients who are deemed at high risk are already offered the vaccination as a matter of routine.”
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the UK, causing around one in five male deaths, and one in ten female deaths. Risks increase with age, and with an unhealthy lifestyle, with the chance of disease increased by smoking, lack of exercise and a poor diet, and by other conditions, such as diabetes.
Figures show that around 600,000 people in the UK have narrowed arteries. Mortality rates fell during the 1980s and 1990s amid a reduction in the number of people smoking, and improvement in treatment for heart disease.
However, Government forecasts predict that soaring obesity levels will mean increasing numbers of cases of heart diseases. New figures suggest that three quarters of adults could suffer from heart disease, diabetes or related conditions by 2030.
Flu jabs are offered on the NHS to everyone over the age of 65, pregnant women, and people with underlying health problems, or weakened immune systems.
Article source: The Telegraph)