Researchers confirm link between flu and heart attack

January 25/2018


By Deborah Creatura, ICES

Chances of a heart attack are increased six-fold during the first seven days after detection of laboratory-confirmed influenza infection according to a new study by researchers at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and Public Health Ontario (PHO).

Dr. Jeff Kwong

Dr. Jeff Kwong

“Our findings are important because an association between influenza and acute myocardial infarction reinforces the importance of vaccination,” says Dr. Jeff Kwong, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Clinical Public Health at DLSPH and lead author of the study.

In the study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers found a significant association between acute respiratory infections, particularly influenza, and acute myocardial infarction.

The risk may be higher for older adults, patients with influenza B infections, and patients experiencing their first heart attack. The researchers also found elevated risk – albeit not as high as for influenza – with infection from other respiratory viruses.

“Our findings, combined with previous evidence that influenza vaccination reduces cardiovascular events and mortality, support international guidelines that advocate for influenza immunization in those at high risk of heart attacks,” says Kwong, a scientist at ICES and PHO.

The researchers looked at nearly 20,000 Ontario adult cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza infection from 2009 to 2014 and identified 332 patients who were hospitalized for a heart attack within one year of a laboratory-confirmed influenza diagnosis.

“People at risk of heart disease should take precautions to prevent respiratory infections, and especially influenza, through measures including vaccinations and handwashing,” says Kwong.

The researchers add that patients should not delay medical evaluation for heart symptoms particularly within the first week of an acute respiratory infection.

Author block: Kwong JC, Schwartz KL, Campitelli MA, Chung H, Crowcroft NS, Karnauchow T, Katz K, Ko DT, McGeer AJ, McNally D, Richardson D, Rosella LC, Simor A, Smieja M, Zahariadis G, Gubbay JB.

The article “Acute myocardial infarction after laboratory-confirmed influenza infection” is published in the January 25th issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.