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​Flu vaccinations can go a long way in preventing heart attacks and strokes

I would like to thank TODAY for the excellent reporting on influenza’s links with heart attacks, strokes and sudden death. Influenza is more often acquired locally than through travel. And the notion of flu vaccination as a travel vaccine cannot be further from the truth.

​Flu vaccinations can go a long way in preventing heart attacks and strokes
Leong Hoe Nam

I would like to thank TODAY for the excellent reporting on influenza’s links with heart attacks, strokes and sudden death ("Is it just a flu? Watch for the increased risk of heart attack, stroke or sudden cardiac death"; Sept 14).

Influenza strikes Singaporeans. It is more often acquired locally than through travel. And the notion of flu vaccination as a travel vaccine cannot be further from the truth.

A local study in 2006 demonstrated that death rates in Singapore mirror those of influenza attacks and vice versa.

Approximately 200 per 100,000 of those older than 65 die yearly from influenza.

Vaccination plays an important role in the prevention of influenza. For comparison, the effectiveness of the following interventions in reducing cardiac death is as follows:                

  Effectiveness (per cent)
 Smoking cessation        32-43
 Cholesterol-lowering medicine  19-30
 Anti-hypertensive medicine  17-25
 Influenza vaccine  15-45

We are obsessed with not smoking, and going for cholesterol and blood-pressure checks. When vaccines are just as effective as them, why are we not getting influenza vaccinations for our heart?

In Thailand, research in 2011 showed influenza vaccines reduced the risk of a second heart attack by 30 per cent, and subsequent death from heart attacks and stroke by 60 per cent. Similar studies have been reproduced around the world. In other words, influenza vaccinations prevent heart attacks.

Even if the vaccine fails to protect completely, someone who has had the vaccine would have a milder illness. In other words, it still lowers the risk of death.

Should influenza infection develop, taking drugs like oseltamivir, zanamivir and the recently available baloxavir can ameliorate symptoms, reduce complications and death, and possibly lower the risk of spreading to others. Think you have the flu? Get treated. 

We have been blessed with scientific knowledge on the treatment and prevention of influenza. Yet a chasm exists in what we know, what we believe and what we do. Awareness and change start with everyone.

Let influenza vaccination go viral. The next time you visit someone in the hospital, forget the fruit basket, flowers or even a get-well hamper. Buy them an influenza vaccine. You might have just saved a life.

ABOUT THE WRITER:

The writer is an infectious-diseases physician with more than 20 years of experience as a doctor. 

Have views on this issue or a news topic you care about? Send your letter to voices [at] mediacorp.com.sg with your full name, address and phone number.

Related topics

flu Heart Attack health medicine stroke

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