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"Uptake of the flu vaccination in heart failure patients is relatively low, ranging from less than 20 percent in low and middle-income countries to 50 to 70 percent in high income countries like the U.K.," said study author Kazem Rahimi. He is deputy director of the George Institute for Global Health at the University of Oxford in England.
"This may partly be because there is no strong evidence to support the recommendation in these patients," he said. Also, some research had suggested that vaccination might be less effective in heart failure patients than in the general population because of their blunted immune response, he added.
Heart failure means the heart is no longer able to pump blood efficiently enough to meet the body's needs. It's one of the most common reasons for hospital admissions among seniors, according to the American Heart Association.
For the new study, Rahimi's team analyzed data from more than 59,000 heart failure patients in the United Kingdom.
They found that flu vaccination was associated with a 30 percent lower risk of hospitalization for heart problems, a 16 percent lower risk of hospitalization for respiratory infections, and a 4 percent lower risk of hospitalization for any reason up to 300 days after vaccination.
"A more likely explanation for the reduction in risk of cardiovascular hospitalization is that vaccination reduces the likelihood of an [influenza] infection, which could in turn trigger cardiovascular deterioration," he said.
The findings "provide further evidence that there are likely worthwhile benefits, and on that basis more efforts are needed to ensure that heart failure patients receive an annual flu jab," Rahimi said.
The findings were presented last week at the European College of Cardiology's meeting on heart failure in Florence, Italy. Findings presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCES: European College of Cardiology, news release, May 23, 2016