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Influenza Virus May Cause Heart Attack and Heart Failure, Studies Suggest

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Influenza cases in the United States continue to rise, urging people to take flu shots to prevent adding to the casualties. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has accounted for 30 pediatric deaths in the country, while a new study found a link between influenza and heart attack which can make matters worse.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory infection caused by the virus of the same name. The virus infects the nose, throat, and sometimes, the lungs. People who contracted the disease often experience a cough, a sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, weakness, and a high-grade fever. However, some people do not experience fever during the course of the infection. It is important to address flu-like symptoms quickly because influenza can cause sepsis, a life-threatening health complication.

Sepsis or septic shock is a blood poisoning that occurs when the body reacts wildly to an infection. While influenza does not directly poison the blood, the immune system can send certain chemicals into the bloodstream to fight off the invaders. However, the chemicals can cause an inflammatory response to the entire body. The inflammation triggers a chain of physiological events that lead to multiple organ failures.



Daniel Sheppard, 23, from Cleethorpes, has died due to septic shock within 24 hours after the diagnosis. According to his mom Nicki, Daniel had a raging temperature and was talking nonsensically then suffered from vision problems.

“He thought it was just the flu. Everyone else had it. But sepsis masks the same symptoms. It all happened so quick and he was gone within 24 hours. Being so young you think you can fight it, but it was so quick. It is such a tragedy at 23 years,” said Nicki.

Sepsis is usually triggered by bacterial infection of the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory system, and the urinary tract but, fungi and viruses may also trigger a septic shock. According to the UK Sepsis Trust, the word sepsis is a mnemonic of the condition:

- S for slurred speech, including confusion.

- E for extreme shivering or muscle pain.

- P for passing of no urine within the day.

- S for severe breathlessness.

- I for it feels like you are going to die.

- S for skin discoloration or mottling.



Sepsis is a time-based condition that requires immediate medical attention. Administration of intravenous antibiotics increases the survival rate of the patient. For every passing hour without IV antibiotics, the chances of the patient to survive septic shock are depleted by 7.6 percent.

“For a patient in septic shock, early antibiotic treatment is their best chance of survival. As an ambulance service we were confident that our clinicians can recognize patients in or approaching septic shock and swiftly and safely administer antibiotics at the earliest opportunity,” said Jon Chippendale, Lead of the Clinical Development at East Midlands Ambulance Service.

Pneumonia and sepsis are not the only health complications the influenza virus can deliver. In the new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that acute myocardial infarction or heart attack can be triggered by acute respiratory infections such as influenza. They analyzed 20,000 adults with laboratory-confirmed influenza infection from 2009 to 2014. Their analysis revealed 332 patients who were admitted to the hospital due to a heart attack within one year before and one year after the flu diagnosis. The findings suggested that the chances of heart attack increase six-fold within the first week, after a laboratory-confirmed influenza infection.



The study also surprised the researchers who discovered that other respiratory infections, such as respiratory syncytial virus and common cold adenoviruses and rhinoviruses, can also increase chances of heart attack. But influenza virus has the most intense effect among respiratory viral agents. According to another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, influenza can trigger an immune response that causes a direct impact on the cardiovascular system.

“When you get the flu, your body mounts an impressive immune response, which causes a lot of inflammation. As a result, the plaque inside your blood vessels can become unstable, which can lead to blockage and a possible heart attack or stroke,” said Dr. Jacob Udell, the lead of the study and a cardiologist at the Women’s College Hospital in Toronto.

Influenza can change many aspects of the lungs, such as functionality and resilience, during the infection. This forces the heart to work harder to compensate for low blood oxygen levels. As a result, the heart may suffer from heart muscle injury that can lead to heart failure. Even though the vaccine does not provide 100 percent protection, health experts urge people to receive a flu vaccination to help combat the infection. Preventing the influenza infection lowers the risk of heart attack from the infection. The vaccine is very important for everyone, particularly for people aged 65 and older who have underlying medical conditions or a compromised immune system.

[메디컬리포트=Ralph Chen 기자]

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