Colds and flu

04 September 2020

Flu, pneumonia vaccines save lives of heart failure patients

Respiratory infections like pneumonia and the flu make heart failure worse, so annual vaccinations are recommended for patients.

  • A study found that heart failure patients who had received flu and pneumonia vaccines had a lower risk of in-hospital death 
  • It is a known fact that respiratory infections make heart failure worse 
  • Despite that, very few heart failure patients receive these immunisations

Flu and pneumonia vaccines lead to fewer hospital deaths among heart failure patients, a new study finds.

"Our study provides further impetus for annual immunisations in patients with heart failure. Despite advice to do so, uptake remains low," said study author Dr Karthik Gonuguntla, of the University of Connecticut.

In heart failure, your heart can't pump blood as well as it should. This leads to fluid buildup in the lungs that causes shortness of breath, coughing and reduced quality of life.

Lower in-hospital death rate

Respiratory infections like pneumonia and the flu make heart failure worse, so annual vaccinations are recommended for patients. However, few studies have compared outcomes among heart failure patients who have and haven't received these vaccinations.

In this study, the researchers looked at nearly three million heart failure patients, average age 70, in the United States who were hospitalised between 2010 and 2014. Only 1.4% of the patients had received the flu vaccine and just 1.4% had received the pneumonia vaccine.

Rates of in-hospital death were much lower among patients who received the flu and pneumonia vaccines (just over 1% for each) than among those who didn't receive either vaccine (almost 4%), the researchers found.

The study findings were released on Friday and scheduled for presentation at the European Society of Cardiology virtual annual meeting.

Pandemic changed perceptions

"Pneumonia and flu vaccines are vital to preventing these respiratory infections and protecting patients with heart failure. Although many people have rejected common and safe vaccines before Covid-19, I am optimistic that the pandemic has changed perceptions about the role of immunisations in safeguarding our health," Gonuguntla said in a society news release.

Serious reactions to flu and pneumonia vaccinations are rare, occur within a few hours and can be treated, he said.

Studies presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until peer-reviewed for publication in a medical journal.

Image credit: iStock


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Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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