Can Pneumonia Vaccine Decrease Swine Flu Death Risk for Those With Atrial Fibrillation

October 03, 2009 5:34 AM CT

As we go into flu season, there is growing apprehension over the H1N1 influenza, commonly called “swine flu”. We have lost several children to it recently here in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, so concerns have escalated, especially with delays in getting the vaccine.

Seasonal flu shots are available, as is the H1N1 nasal spray vaccine. However, the H1N1 nasal spray is not approved for those 50 or older, nor high-risk individuals with heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, asthma, or other chronic diseases. Since most people with atrial fibrillation are over 50, or have heart disease, diabetes, or other health conditions, and even those with lone atrial fibrillation may have undiagnosed heart disease, this seems to apply to most of those with atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation doubles our risk of death, so with swine flu coming, what can we do to decrease our risk? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that about one third of those who died recently from H1N1 influenza also had bacterial infections, such as bacterial pneumonia, which may have contributed to their deaths.

Ninety per cent of them had underlying conditions that made them vulnerable, such as obesity, heart disease, asthma, diabetes, or HIV infection, and most were in groups recommended to get the pneumonia vaccine. So the pneumonia shot might be a good preemptive tactic to make you less vulnerable to the H1N1/swine flu’s deadly consequences.

The CDC recommends the pneumonia shot for high risk individuals—that is, anyone 65 or older, or 2–64 with long-term health problems (i.e., heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, etc.), or 19–64 who smokes or has asthma. Of those Americans who should have the pneumonia shot, only 16% have, leaving 70 million Americans vulnerable.

This is not about whether to have the H1N1 flu shot – I’m well aware of the controversy in the afib community over this – but with pneumonia and other bacterial infections contributing to H1N1 deaths, the pneumonia shot could be a prudent precaution.

To learn more, see:

If the potential for heading off deadly flu-related complications isn’t enough for you, then check out this story that we published last fall about research showing that getting the pneumonia shot could halve your risk of getting a heart attack within the following two years:

SPECIAL THANKS: I’d like to extend my special thanks to three of my Twitter favorites, @RitaRubin, @KimPainter, and @LizSzabo, whom I follow and reweet often, for their generosity in sending me these wonderful resources for preparing this story for you. Also, I’d like to extend my thanks to @marynmck for a wonderful story highlighting this very important information. I hope you will follow each of them, too. Just click on these links:

  • KimPainter — USA TODAY health columnist
  • LizSzabo — USA TODAY medical news reporter
  • RitaRubin — USA TODAY medical reporter on drug safety, the FDA, and women’s health
  • Maryn McKenna — Journalist, author, blogger, photographer, professional disease geek, and recovering newspaper reporter. Also, @MRSA_blog and @CIDRAP.