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Study reveals flu heart attack risk

Heart patients who catch the flu may have more to worry about than just a fever or the sniffles: the virus could also spark a heart attack, new research shows.

Amid the global outbreak of swine flu, experts say it is crucial that heart patients get vaccinated against both regular flu and swine flu to avoid medical problems. Doctors said swine flu isn't any more dangerous than regular flu, but it is important for heart patients to get vaccinated because more flu viruses will be circulating this year.

British researchers analysed 39 previous studies of heart patients and found a consistent link between flu and heart attacks. Up to half of all unexpected flu deaths were due to heart disease, the researchers found.

The study was published online in the medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

"The message here is so strong and so logical that it's hard for us to ignore," said Dr Ralph Brindis, Vice President of the American College of Cardiology. "If we can convince cardiac patients to get a flu vaccine, that could ultimately save lives."

"We know influenza vaccine is effective in preventing influenza and therefore in theory, ought to be effective in preventing the complications of influenza," said Andrew Hayward of University College London, one of the study authors. He said two of the studies analysed showed heart patients who got a flu shot had fewer heart attacks than those who didn't.

Hayward said flu viruses might merely act as triggers for heart attacks in cardiovascular patients.

Copyright © Press Association 2009

The Lancet Infectious Diseases