When most people hear about vaccines these days, the first thing that comes to mind is COVID-19. However, vaccines also help prevent other serious illnesses like the flu, especially for those at higher risk.
According to the American Heart Association, people with underlying risk factors like heart disease, stroke, obesity and diabetes are at high risk of serious flu complications. During the 2018-19 flu season, more than 93% of adults hospitalized for the flu reported at least one underlying medical condition that placed them at high-risk for complications, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even so, a survey on behalf of the American Heart Association found 3 in 5 U.S. adults may delay or skip the flu shot this year, despite warnings from health experts the influenza season could be severe after a mild 2020-21 flu season.
“Unfortunately, the flu is back,” said Donald Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Sc.M., FAHA, volunteer president of the American Heart Association. “We’re seeing cases in communities across the country. If you’ve delayed your flu shot, it’s not too late to get one for the current flu season, which usually lasts until late spring. Getting it as soon as possible offers the most protection for you and your loved ones.”
A lack of information may contribute to decisions to skip or delay the flu shot. The survey identified a significant knowledge gap, with an overwhelming majority (94%) of adults in the United States incorrectly answering at least one of eight questions about the shot. Younger generations were less informed than their older counterparts, but across all age groups, more than half of U.S. adults answered at least two questions incorrectly.
Despite the knowledge gap, some common misconceptions may be fading. Among all respondents, 73% know you can’t get the flu from the flu shot and 88% know you can get a COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot at the same time.
Flu and Heart Health
There is a strong correlation between the flu and cardiovascular diseases like heart disease and stroke. Among adults hospitalized with flu during recent flu seasons, heart disease was one of the most common chronic conditions. According to the CDC, about half of adults hospitalized with flu have heart disease. In addition, research published in “The New England Journal of Medicine” showed those who are not vaccinated against the flu are six times more likely to have a heart attack within a week of infection.
Preventing the Flu
Take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu this season with these tips from the American Heart Association:
- Get your flu shot. Most experts recommend getting your shot early in the season, but it’s not too late to benefit from the protection. The flu shot is available to anyone at least 6 months old. While getting the shot isn’t a guarantee you won’t get the flu, it reduces the chances of contracting a severe case.
- Wash germs away. Washing hands frequently and thoroughly helps reduce the spread of germs, including those that cause viruses like the flu. Also make a point to avoid touching your face, since your nose and mouth are natural entry points for germs.
- Seek medical attention. If you get sick, seeing a doctor can bring relief and help shorten your illness. If the flu is detected early enough, you may be able to take an oral antiviral treatment that reduces the length and severity of your symptoms.
Learn more about protecting your heart health and preventing the flu at heart.org/flu.