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The seasonal influenza vaccine could protect against serious heart and stroke complications, according to new data published by the American Heart Association.

It’s widely accepted that the stress the influenza infection puts on the body may increase the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Despite this, the rate of seasonal flu vaccinations among high-risk groups, including people over age 50, those with HIV/AIDS, obese patients and those living in long-term care facilities, is extremely low. However, those who do get their flu vaccination significantly lower their cardiovascular risks for heart attack, TIA (transient ischemic attack), death and cardiac arrest, according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association’s Basic Cardiovascular Sciences 2020 Scientific Sessions.

The meeting, held virtually July 27-30, 2020, is a premier global exchange of the latest advances in basic cardiovascular science including research in fields like microRNAs, cardiac gene and cell therapy and cardiac development.

“These groups should have the highest vaccination rates because they are the most at risk; however, our findings show the opposite—flu vaccinations are under-utilized,” Roshni A. Mandania, B.S., lead author of the study and M.D. Candidate Class of 2021 at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Paul L. Foster School of Medicine in El Paso, Texas, said in statement. “As health care providers, we must do everything we can to ensure our most vulnerable populations are protected against the flu and its serious complications.”

Using information from the 2014 National Inpatient Sample, the largest database of U.S. hospitals, researchers (under the guidance of Debabrata Mukherjee, M.D., Chief of Cardiovascular Services at Texas Tech University Medical Center at El Paso) assessed the rate at which the flu vaccine was administered to patients designated by the Centers for Disease Control as high-risk for the flu and its complications.

“The results we found are staggering. It’s hard to ignore the positive effect the flu vaccine can have on serious cardiac complications,” Mandania said, adding researchers assessed immunization solely in the hospital so it is possible some individuals may have received the flu vaccine in an outpatient setting. “Nevertheless, our study highlights the marked under-underutilization of flu vaccine in high-risk groups and underscores the need for a health care policy initiative to increase flu vaccinations among all patients and especially in high-risk groups.”

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