Flu Shot Especially Important for People with Cardiovascular Disease

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Believe it or not, flu season is approaching, and it’s not too early to start thinking about getting your annual vaccination. The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology are advising all people with cardiovascular disease to get a flu shot because their risk of dying from influenza (“the flu”) is higher than that of any other group. Cardiovascular disease (which includes heart disease and stroke) is the most common long-term complication of diabetes.

Although research has shown that people with cardiovascular disease can significantly reduce their chances of dying by getting a flu shot, only one-third of the adults who have it received a flu vaccination in 2005. This year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has set the goal of vaccinating at least 60% of people under age 65 who have heart disease and 90% of all people age 65 and over.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends an annual flu vaccination for all people over the age of 50, as well as for all adults and children with a chronic medical condition, including diabetes. People who have diabetes have a higher risk of developing complications or dying from the flu than people who don’t, but, according to the CDC, only about 50% get an annual flu shot.

Other groups that should receive an annual vaccination are children between the ages of 6 months and 4 years and 11 months, women who will be pregnant during flu season, and people who live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities.

It is important to note that people in all of these groups should be vaccinated by injection only, not by the nasal-spray flu vaccine (also called the Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine, or “LAIV”). The nasal-spray vaccine contains weakened live viruses, which can actually trigger the flu in a population with a high risk for influenza-related complications.

To help reach vaccination targets, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology are urging cardiologists (heart doctors) to stock flu vaccine—so if you have a cardiology appointment coming up, you may be able to get a flu shot then. If not, flu shots should be available from your primary health-care provider, as well as from community health clinics, hospitals, and even some pharmacies. People who are severely allergic to eggs, have had an allergic reaction to a past flu vaccination, or have a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome should not get a flu shot, and people running a fever should postpone their flu shot until after the fever is gone.

It is best to get your flu shot by the end of November, although vaccination even as late as January should help protect you from the flu. Flu season in the United States usually peaks sometime in the first three months of the year.

According to the CDC, people with diabetes are also more likely to die from pneumonia than people without, but only about one-third of people with diabetes get the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (often referred to as the “pneumonia” shot). The shot, which actually helps protect against 23 different infections including meningitis, can be given at any time of year and is usually effective for a lifetime (although people with chronic conditions such as diabetes may need a second shot 5–10 years after the first). Ask your doctor if you could benefit from this vaccine in addition to your flu vaccine.

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