Avera Medical Minute AMcK: Flu raises risk of heart attack; best prevention is getting vaccinated

Influenza is making its mark on the United States with almost all states reporting widespread activity.

Newt Anderson is one of the thousands of Americans who have been infected with the virus.

“Everything from chest congestions, cold, nasal drainage -- I mean you just kind of feel like you got hit by a truck,” said Anderson.

And while the flu can kill young and otherwise healthy people, Avera family medicine physician Dr. Mark List says it’s important to realize that it is rare.

“The people who do usually die and get hospitalized are people with pre-existing conditions like lung disease, or have other health related conditions, or are geriatric populations or the incredibly young,” said Dr. List.

Dr. List says the flu can be deadly for a couple of reasons.

“Unlike a lot of the other minor coughs and colds, influenza also causes a lot more inflammation and damage to the lungs. Influenza also is kind of unique in that you can get influenza and be fine with influenza but then it’s a secondary bacterial pneumonia that can kill you,” said Dr. List.

In very rare cases, something called a ‘cytokine storm’ happens which is the immune system’s overwhelming response to infection.

“It causes this weird cascade of reactions in the human body that can cause this systemic response and basically turns somebody who was really, really healthy, really powerful immune system -- they get this infection and then suddenly they are really sick. It’s the body’s response way over the top of what would normally be considered normal reaction,” said Dr. List.

“We always look at causal relationships and ideological factors for heart disease,” said Dr. Jeffrey Anderson, emergency medicine physician at Avera Heart Hospital.

Dr. Anderson says there is a link between the flu and heart disease. A recent study shows that someone with the flu is at least six times more likely to have a heart attack.

“If we know that influenza can increase the risk of a heart attack, and this is particularly in the elderly over 65, people with risk factors, wouldn’t you want to do your part to get your influenza vaccination and possibly prevent a death?” said Dr. Anderson.

“Definitely get your flu shot, even if it’s not 100% effective that year, it gives your body a fighting chance to go out and actually get over it quicker,” said Dr. Anderson.

Doctors say getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent getting the flu and it is not too late to get the flu shot.

For more information just call 877-AT-AVERA.