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I always get a flu shot, so here’s one less thing to worry about:

A number of studies have shown a link between heart attacks and a prior respiratory infection. A 2010 study of about 78,000 patients age 40 or older found that those who had gotten a flu shot in the previous year were 20 percent less likely to suffer a first heart attack, even when such cardiovascular risks as smoking, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes were taken in account.

Scarier still, researchers report that up to 91,000 Americans a year die from heart attacks and strokes triggered by flu. This grim statistic prompted the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology to issue guidelines recommending vaccination for patients with cardiovascular disease (CVD). The CDC advises flu shots for everyone over six months of age, but cautions that certain people should check with a medical provider before being immunized.

Sadly, fewer than half of Americans with high-risk conditions like heart disease get the shot, leaving themselves dangerously unprotected against both flu complications and cardiovascular events. In fact, the CDC actually uses heart attack rates to track seasonal flu outbreaks, says Dr. Bale. “They look for areas with a sudden surge in heart attacks and send a team to investigate, because the cause is almost always a spike in flu cases.”

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