It's almost a rite of fall for some-- falling leaves mean flu season is on the horizon and that means it's time for flu shots. The vaccine helps protect against the seasonal influenza virus that can be deadly-- even more so if you have heart or lung disease.
"Anecdotally, here when we track where people are admitted, they come in with the flu and we test them and we say, 'oh, they have the flu,' where most of those people are ending up, interestingly enough, most of them are ending up or a lot of them are on our heart floor, on the cardiac floor," said Dr. Chris Grace, an infectious disease specialist at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.
And with good reason. Patients with underlying heart or lung conditions who get the flu fare the worst. Here's why.
"The linkage is that if you have underlying heart disease and you get a stressor on you like influenza that causes you to have trouble breathing, fever, that's going to stress your heart and that may lead to heart problems," Grace explained. "If you can't breathe and you can't get oxygenated, your body, well, you may have a heart attack or you may have a stroke. And I think that this study goes strongly in support of that."
The study conducted in Canada showed people who got a flu shot were 50 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke. With more than 3,200 patients involved, it also showed vaccinated people were 40 percent less likely to die.
"It's a complete no-brainer," Grace said. "The flu vaccine is effective and it's safe. I think that this data out there saying well, it's not that effective-- it is. It's not perfect. It doesn't prevent all deaths. It doesn't prevent all illnesses, but it definitely reduces death rates and it definitely reduces heart problems, strokes."
And with several deaths already reported this year, including a healthy child in Maine this week, Grace says that's reason enough for everyone to get a flu shot-- the young, the old and those medically compromised.
Grace says it's not too late to get a flu shot. Flu season typically runs through spring.
PO Box 4508