Flu Vaccine May Hold Key to Preventing Heart Disease

Flu vaccines are known to have a protective effect against heart disease, reducing the risk of a heart attack. For the first time, this research, published in Vaccine, reveals the molecular mechanism that underpins this phenomenon. The scientists behind the study say it could be harnessed to prevent heart disease directly.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. People can reduce their risk of heart disease by eating healthily, exercising and stopping smoking. However, to date there is no vaccine against heart disease.

Previous clinical findings show that people that receive the seasonal flu vaccine also benefit from its protective effect against heart disease; the risk of having a heart attack in the year following vaccination is 50% lower than people who did not receive the vaccination. The exact mechanism underlying this protective effect remained unknown.

This new study for the first time reveals this mechanism, showing that the flu vaccine stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies that switch on certain processes in cells. These processes lead to the production of molecules that protect the heart. The researchers say that based on the results it may be possible to develop a new vaccine against heart disease.

“Even though the protective effect of the flu vaccine against heart disease has been known for some time, there is very little research out there looking at what causes it. Our proposed mechanism could potentially be harnessed in a vaccine against heart disease, and we plan to investigate this further,” said Dr. Veljkovic, Institute Vinca, Belgrade, the lead author of the new study.

The researchers identified a protein called the bradykinin 2 receptor (BKB2R), which is involved in cellular processes that protect the heart. Some of the antibodies the body produces after flu vaccination switch this protein on, therefore protecting against heart disease. The researchers analysed 14 flu viruses used in vaccines, and identified four that could be investigated for use in potential heart disease vaccines.

Flu shots: Especially important if you have heart disease

If you have heart disease, flu season can be a dangerous time. Death from influenza (flu) is more common among people with heart disease than among people with any other chronic condition. Fortunately, getting a flu shot can reduce your risk of catching the flu or developing complications from the flu.

Doctors have long recommended that older adults and other high-risk groups get flu shots, but they now emphasize the importance of flu shots for those with heart disease. The flu shot could prevent thousands of flu-related complications and deaths every year in people who have heart disease.
Why are flu shots important for those with heart disease?

Flu seasons vary from year to year in length and severity. For this and other reasons, it’s not possible to know how many flu-related deaths occur. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates a range of flu-related deaths in the thousands annually in the United States. The rate of flu-related complications is even higher among people with heart disease.

If you have heart disease, you’re at increased risk of complications from the flu - including pneumonia, respiratory failure, heart attack and death. Having the flu can also cause dehydration and worsen pre-existing conditions, such as heart failure, diabetes or asthma.

It’s a good idea to get a flu shot if you live with or care for someone who has heart disease. Lowering your risk of getting the flu will lower the risk of those around you.

Even if you get the flu despite having a flu shot, you’ll probably have a less severe case of the flu. Getting a flu shot might even lower your risk of a heart attack if you have heart disease.

Is it safe to get a flu shot if I have heart disease?

Flu shots are safe for most people who have heart disease. Get your flu vaccine injected by needle, which is usually done in the arm. Some people develop mild arm soreness at the injection site, a low-grade fever (about 99 to 100 F, or 37 to 38 C) or muscle aches. These side effects usually go away within a day or two.

Flu Vaccine May Hold Key to Preventing Heart Disease “The rate of administering flu vaccinations is disappointingly low, even in developed countries,” added Dr. Veljkovic “We hope that our results will encourage more people to get vaccinated before the flu season starts.”

This article is “Influenza vaccine as prevention of cardiovascular diseases: Possible molecular mechanism”, by Veljko Veljkovic, Sanja Glisic, Nevena Veljkovic, Tijana Bojic, Ursula Dietrich, Vladimir R. Perovic, Alfonso Colombatti (doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2014.07.007).

Notes for editor
Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request, contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) . Journalists wishing to interview the authors may contact Dr. Veljko Veljkovic at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

People with Heart Disease and Those Who Have Had a Stroke Are at High Risk of Developing Complications from Influenza (the Flu)

People with heart disease and those who have had a stroke are at high risk for developing serious complications from the flu. Among adults hospitalized with the flu during the 2013-2014 influenza season, heart disease was among the most commonly-occurring chronic conditions; 37% of adults hospitalized with the flu during the 2013-2014 flu season had heart disease. Studies have shown that influenza is associated with an increase of heart attacks and stroke.

- Heart disease includes but is not limited to coronary artery disease [heart attack or myocardial infarction, acute coronary syndrome and angina (chest pain related to heart disease)]. It also includes the following common conditions:

  Heart failure
  Hypertensive heart disease
  Pulmonary heart disease
  Heart valve disorders
  Arrhythmias including atrial fibrillation
  Congenital heart defects

About Vaccine
Vaccine is the pre-eminent journal for those interested in vaccines and vaccination. It is the official journal of The Edward Jenner Society, The International Society for Vaccines and The Japanese Society for Vaccinology.www.elsevier.com/locate/vaccine

About Elsevier

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