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Flu Shot Through the Heart

Are there added benefits to getting a yearly flu shot? Find out on this Moment of Science.

Researchers conducting a study of hospital stays for over two hundred and eighty six thousand older folks found something interesting in their data.

The number of hospitalizations for heart disease and stroke went down significantly among a certain group of people at a certain time of year. What folks, and what time of year, you ask? Flu season–and the lucky people were the ones who got flu shots.

It’s generally recommended that people over fifty get their flu shots every year. Influenza is no small thing–it’s responsible for around thirty six thousand deaths a year in the U.S. alone. Getting the shots also cuts down on the chances of getting pneumonia, which is especially dangerous in seniors.

But what wasn’t known was that there seems to be an added benefit to getting a flu shot in terms of warding off heart problems. The data, in fact, are quite strong in suggesting this is the case.

In this study, flu shots cut down the number of hospitalizations for heart disease by nineteen percent. Stroke went down sixteen percent one season and a whopping twenty-three percent a second season. These are big results.

So what’s the connection between getting a flu shot and having a stronger heart? It isn’t yet known.

Researchers speculate that the flu virus itself may do damage to blood vessels, possibly making clots more likely. Blood clots in the heart can cause heart attacks, and blood clots in the brain can cause strokes.

Whatever the specific details are, there’s one more good reason to follow your doctor’s advice–and get that annual flu shot.

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