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Apr 23, 2018

People with Heart Failure Can Benefit Greatly from the Flu Vaccine

The flu shot cuts mortality risk in half among patients with heart failure.

The flu vaccine may be lifesaving for those with heart failure, based on a recent study that found the flu vaccine cuts mortality risk in half during flu season for heart failure patients.

Presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 67th Annual Scientific Session, this study explored the benefits of the flu shot in patients with heart failure. It analyzed data from six existing studies, which included more than 78,000 heart failure patients from the United States, Europe and Asia.

The goal was to see whether the flu shot helps protect heart failure patients during flu season.

Heart failure currently affects 6.5 million adults. Studies have found that flu-related death is increased in patients with this chronic condition.

To see how well the flu vaccine protects patients, researchers compared hospitalizations and survival rates among 78,882 adults with heart failure. Participants were between the average ages of 64–75 and followed for 1–4 years.

When comparing outcomes among participants, researchers found that the flu shot was associated with significantly lower risk of complications. Overall, the flu shot cut risk of death in half during flu season and was associated with a 21% lower risk of death during the rest of the year. Researchers also found that patients getting the flu vaccine were 22% less likely to be hospitalized for heart problems during flu season.

Findings are promising for the millions of U.S. adults with heart failure who face increased health risks during flu season. However, findings also highlight the need to increase flu vaccination rates in this vulnerable population.

In this study, the proportion of heart failure patients receiving the flu shot ranged anywhere from 26–86%, which is a vast difference.

“It is well known that influenza infection is associated with increased risk for mortality in heart failure patients,” said Hidekatsu Fukuta, MD, a cardiologist at Nagoya City University Graduate School of Medical Sciences in Nagoya, Japan, and the study’s lead author. “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.”

To increase vaccination rates, authors encourage more consistent guidelines about the flu shot in heart failure patients. The Heart Failure Society of America recommends annual vaccination in all heart failure patients, as long as there’s no medical reason not to. However, organizations like the European Society of Cardiology, American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology don’t have specific recommendations regarding flu vaccinations for heart failure patients. Experts believe stronger recommendations and increased education about the flu shot could help increase vaccination rates.

Researchers also encourage clinical trials to study the relationship of the flu shot and reduced mortality risk. “Randomized controlled studies should be planned to confirm our observed potential survival benefit of influenza vaccination in these patients,” Fukuta said. This type of research would help increase our understanding about the risks and benefits of the flu shot and help inform flu shot recommendations for patients with heart failure.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is heart failure?

  • Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to the rest of the body. Although there is no cure for heart failure, treatments such as ACE inhibitors and ARBs can help improve outcomes as well as quality of life.
  • Who is at risk for heart failure?

  • Risk for heart failure increases with age, and is most common in patients with heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, such as arrhythmia or history of heart attack. 

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