With the pandemic still dominating headlines and infections in the UK likely to rise as children and young teenagers return to full-time education, a case of flu might not seem like a big deal. But, with winter approaching, there’s a real concern that ‘vaccine fatigue’ might make people reluctant to roll up their sleeve again or even uncertain as to whether they need to have both.
However, individuals with heart disease and those who have had a stroke are at much higher risk of developing serious flu complications according to research, and it’s essential that they are fully protected this winter from both COVID and influenza.
A study in 2018 found that the risk of having a heart attack was six times higher within a week of being diagnosed with flu. In addition to this, a 2020 study investigated adults who were hospitalised with flu and found that sudden, serious heart conditions occurred in 1 out of every 8 patients (12%).
COVID vaccine vs the flu jab
Influenza, also commonly known as the flu is a contagious viral infection of the nose, throat, and lungs (respiratory system) that can make some people seriously ill. Every year over 11,000 people in England die from complications caused by the flu virus and it is believed that many of these deaths could have been prevented by having the flu vaccination.
The flu vaccine is a safe and effective vaccine that is offered to help protect people who are at risk of getting seriously ill from the flu. The best time to have the vaccine is in the autumn or early winter before the flu starts spreading.
The immunity provided by flu vaccinations decreases over time and therefore an annual vaccination is needed to ensure that the best level of protection is on offer. Although it cannot guarantee 100% protection, it is considered the best defense.
COVID and influenza are caused by two unique viruses and the vaccines for flu and COVID employ different technologies to teach our immune systems how to recognise and then attack the virus. It’s thought that the vaccine technology that has been developed during the pandemic to protect against Coronavirus will be used to improve flu shots in the future.
Heart Disease and influenza
If you have a heart condition, then you are at a much greater risk of becoming seriously unwell from the flu than the general population. In addition to worsening symptoms, it is also associated with increased complications and longer stays in the hospital.
The flu can also affect blood clotting rate (INR) and associated medications such as warfarin. Fevers, colds, coughs, headaches can all impact the body’s way of processing warfarin. Fever and diarrhea increase the metabolic rate which may result in the depletion of clotting factors and therefore an increased INR.
Having a heart condition can also limit the type of drugs that will be available to help treat the virus. The flu is not responsive to antibiotics, but antivirals are often used to help relieve symptoms.
Prevention is key
There is evidence to suggest that heart attacks happen more often during or immediately after an acute inflammatory illness such as the flu. Preventing flu in the first place is the best option. For more advice on the long-term management of heart disease, get in touch to arrange a consultation with Dr Konrad Grosser.