Mumbai: Statistics indicate that people who get flu may be at a six-fold higher risk of heart attack in the week following infection. The risk of heart attack or myocardial infarction is particularly acute in older adults. These findings assume importance as an association between influenza and acute myocardial infarction reinforces the need for vaccination. While other respiratory viruses were also seen to raise the risk of heart attack, the incidence was not as high as the flu virus.
Influenza or ‘the flu’ is a highly contagious disease caused by infection from influenza type A or B (or rarely C) virus. These viruses infect the upper airways and lungs. It is particularly of harm to the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.
Dr K K Aggarwal, President Heart Care Foundation of India (HCFI) and Immediate Past National President Indian Medical Association (IMA), said, “During flu illness, our body is under a lot of stress and inflammation is up. Further, the oxygen levels and blood pressure can drop which can lead to an increased risk of blood clots in the vessels that serve the heart. All of these can cause heart attack. Vaccination is the best way to reduce the risk of getting flu. Being vaccinated gives you protection against flu by building immunity to the virus and preventing transmission of the virus to other people.”
The initial symptoms of flu include fever, headaches, chills, and a cough. Other signs such as loss of appetite, and muscle aches follow late. Apart from this, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are rare in adults but more common in children. Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at nearly 20,000 adult cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza infection between 2009 to 2014 and identified 332 patients who were hospitalised for a heart attack within a year of a lab-confirmed flu diagnosis.
It suggests the risk may be higher for older adults, patients with influenza B infections, and patients experiencing their first heart attack. In absence of breathlessness or chest pain no admission is required.
Dr Aggarwal further added, “There are other complications of flu such as bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, or diabetes. It is, therefore, important to not ignore symptoms of flu. Chest pains and shortness of breath might indicate a lot more.”
The following tips can help prevent influenza
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep a distance from others to protect them from getting sick.
- Stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
- Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Germs often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Clean, disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.