A new study has found that in some circumstances a flu vaccine can lower the risk of heart attack by 45 per cent.

“Influenza vaccination protected significantly against heart attacks,” for middle-aged people with narrowed arteries, according to the findings of a report published in the latest edition of the journal Heart. The study found influenza may be an unrecognised precipitant of heart attacks.

Researchers on the project from the University of New South Wales say that vaccination rates were surprisingly low among patients who had had a heart attack, based on previous research indicating infections such as flu might encourage blood to thicken or prompt an inflammatory response in arteries that are already diseased, sparking the development of a blockage.

The study is set to re-awaken the debate that vaccine programs should be extended to people in a higher age bracket.

“Extending the flu vaccination program to 50 to 64-year-olds has been a policy debate in the past, but not considered to be cost effective,” says Professor Raina MacIntyre, head of the School of Public Health and Community Medicine, “however, prevention of cardiovascular disease wasn’t taken into consideration in such estimates.”

“Even if we didn’t vaccinate everyone over 50 years of age, influenza vaccination of people with a first heart attack could also have a significant impact, with high rates of subsequent acute coronary events in such patients,” says co-author, Dr Pramesh Kavoor, Director of Cardiac Services at Westmead Hospital.

“Doctors should consider vaccination of heart attack patients before hospital discharge and GPs could consider it for those who show other risks associated with heart disease.”

A copy of the report is available online.