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Study Shows Flu Shots Improve Health Of Women With Cardiovascular Disease

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"All the talk about Ebola and Enterovirus 68 has led public health officials ramp up their urging that we all get a flu shot. After all, it's a lot more likely that most of us are going to be exposed to flu in the next few months. And now a new study suggests there's now a new reason to protect yourself. Sound Medicine's Healthy Living Expert Dr. Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber joins me to explain."

Lewis: A Canadian study looked at how the flu vaccine affects women with cardiovascular disease.. And the results show that these flu vaccines were good for these women. Do we know why? 

Dr. Rohr-Kirchgraber: Isn't this a fabulous study? Because it is yet again one more awesome reason to get your flu shot. Helping to prevent disease is probably the best way of improving your health, as well as the health of the community, so I thought this study was really interesting because it tried to look at things from a lot of different directions. What was interesting was that just having the flu vaccine helped to decrease your risk of cardiovascular events, whether those events were heart attacks or congestive heart failure with fluid overload... or decreasing the incidence of myocarditis, which is kind of an infection or irritation of the muscle of the heart itself. Isn't it interesting that the vaccine itself seemed to help  decrease those types of events with the heart, whether or not it's that the opportunity to decrease the infection is what really helps it or is it there something about the vaccine itself? 

Lewis: That was my next question. Is it simply the fact that you didn't get the flu? Because if get the flu, you get weak, you get sick, your heart has to work more. Isn't this in some way just common-sense results?

Dr. Rohr-Kirchgraber: And that's definitely true. Especially because they think there is some relationship between the influence of the virus itself that might trigger the rupture of the plaques in the arteries. For example, as you get older, you get some plaques in the arteries, a buildup of gunky stuff in your blood vessels. It does seem that the influence of the virus itself seems to cause a rupture of these plaques which then spills gunk into your arteries which then causes a clogging up of those arteries and anything that's down wind of them, for example, an artery going to your heart which would then get clogged up and result in a heart attack. So, by decreasing your chance of getting the flu, you would help to decrease that effect. But is there something just about the vaccine itself? That we don't really know yet. We do know that people stayed healthier and they definitely had a decreased risk of these types of heart complications... So I think that's going to be the next big focus: is it something about the vaccine in and of itself or is it about keeping people healthier in general? It lends more credibility to the decision to really push flu vaccines for everyone. 

Lewis: Are there any women with cardiovascular disease that would be better off without the flu shot?

Dr. Kirchgraber: Absolutely not. In fact, the current recommendations is that everyone—it doesn't matter whether you're sick, you're young, you're old or have any other complicating concerns— everybody should have a flu vaccine. 

  • Dr. Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber is the director of the IU National Center of Excellence in Women's Health.