Every fall there is an eternal struggle between the forces of good – those who like flu vaccine – and the evil — those who avoid flu vaccine like the plague.
Public health officials and medical folks are making as much noise as possible to encourage vaccination. And it’s a noble effort because the flu is worth avoiding.
Do you remember the last time you had a 103 temperature? Did you hallucinate and have some very bad dreams and your body ached so much it felt like Mike Tyson used you for a sparring partner? And did you make a serious attempt to cough a lung out?
Spend 7-10 days feeling this horrible and you are willing to surrender and do anything to avoid it ever happening again.
Now we may have a much better reason to get the flu vaccine than even avoiding the flu. How about not having a heart attack or stroke? Think the flu is bad? Heart attacks and strokes will really ruin your day, year and life!
This revelation comes from a Canadian cardiologist names Dr. Jacob Udell. He took several studies on flu vaccine and illness and compiled them. This can be a very powerful tool to get information that was not clearly visible in the smaller individual studies. It turns out that people who received the flu vaccine had a 50 percent reduction in heart attacks and strokes. That is no less than astounding.
And my initial reaction was: This is so left-field it must be something other than a flu shot. People who get the flu shot might be a statistically unusual group of people. Maybe they smoke less, eat better or take their cholesterol medication. If that was the case, the flu shot selected a less risky group of people, rather that actually reducing heart risk.
But it looks like it actually was the flu shot that protected people from heart attack and stroke. This risk reduction occurred in both people who were healthy, and those who already had heart disease. This information also fits with some recent thinking on heart disease.
We have been looking into inflammation of blood vessels as the cause of heart attacks and stroke. Tests for inflammation are elevated in people that go on to have these vascular problems. You might remember the discussion of C-reactive protein and heart disease a few years ago. C-reactive protein is a simple blood test for inflammation; if the results are high there’s a greater chance for heart disease.
Influenza is a very inflammatory condition. Inflammation is a response to infection that is designed to help fight the infection. This inflammation can also cause trouble. Influenza is thought of as a respiratory disease, but your aching body tells you the infection is everywhere.
We have a pretty reasonable mechanism why flu vaccine would actually reduce heart attacks or strokes. A 50-percent reduction is better than we get treating elevated blood pressure or cholesterol. It is no less than a paradigm shift in thinking.
I have been vaccinated every year for flu. A week in the ICU 20 years ago taught me the flu should be avoided. If I could be guaranteed a big reduction in heart attack and stroke risk, I would get a flu shot every day!
Fortunately you need only one to avoid the flu. What are your waiting for – get your shot now!
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.