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Flu and Heart Disease & Stroke

People with Heart Disease* and Those Who Have Had a Stroke Are at High Risk of Developing Complications from Influenza (the Flu)

People with heart disease and those who have had a stroke are at high risk for developing serious complications from the flu. Among adults hospitalized with the flu during the 2015-2016 influenza season, heart disease was among the most commonly-occurring chronic conditions; 41% of adults hospitalized with the flu during the 2015-2016 flu season had heart disease. Studies have shown that influenza is associated with an increase of heart attacks and stroke.

*Heart disease includes but is not limited to coronary artery disease [heart attack or myocardial infarction, acute coronary syndrome and angina (chest pain related to heart disease)]. It also includes the following common conditions:

  • Heart failure
  • Hypertensive heart disease
  • Pulmonary heart disease
  • Heart valve disorders
  • Arrhythmias including atrial fibrillation
  • Congenital heart defects

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If you have heart disease or have had a stroke, you need to take steps to fight the flu.

  • Get a flu vaccine.
    • Vaccination is the first and most important step in protecting against the flu. Even if you don’t have a regular doctor or nurse, you can get a flu vaccine.
    • Flu vaccines are offered in many locations including doctors’ offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies, college health centers and increasingly by a number of employers and public schools.
    • Flu shots are approved for use in people with heart disease and other health conditions. Flu vaccination has been associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease. See “What are the benefits of flu vaccination?” for more information.
  • Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of flu:
    • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and throw the tissue away after using it;
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing;
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth (germs are spread that way); and
    • Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care. If you are sick with flu-like symptoms you should stay home for 24 hours after your fever is gone (without the use of fever-reducing medicine).
    • Everyday preventive actions can protect you from getting sick and, if you are sick, can help protect others from catching your illness.
  • If you do get sick with flu symptoms, call your doctor and take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.
    • Treatment should begin as soon as possible because antiviral drugs work best when started early (within 48 hours after symptoms start).
    • Antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious health problems that can result from the flu.
    • There are three FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs recommended by CDC this season that can be used to treat the flu. These medicines fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from making more viruses in your body.  A doctor needs to write a prescription for you to be treated with these antiviral drugs.

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Take Other Important Steps to Stay Healthy

  • Get pneumococcal vaccines.
    • People who have heart disease should also be up to date with pneumococcal vaccination to protect against pneumococcal disease, such as pneumonia, meningitis, and bloodstream infections. Talk to your doctor to find out which pneumococcal vaccines are recommended for you.
    • Pneumococcal pneumonia is an example of a serious flu-related complication that can cause death. You can get either pneumococcal vaccine (but not both) when you get the flu vaccine.
  • Maintain a two week supply of your regular medications during flu season.
  • Do not stop taking your regular medications without first consulting your doctor, especially in the event that you get the flu or another respiratory infection.
  • People with heart failure should be alert to changes in their breathing and should promptly report changes to their doctor.

Questions & Answers

If I am younger than 50 and have heart disease can I get the nasal spray vaccine?

The flu shot has a long, established safety record in people with heart disease. Your doctor or other health care professional can advise you on which flu vaccine is best for you. The nasal spray flu vaccine (live attenuated influenza vaccine or LAIV) is not recommended for use during 2016-2017.

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More Information


For Health Professionals

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