Flu and heart disease: It’s all in the numbers

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

PETALING JAYA, Nov 25 ― Those with heart disease face a much higher risk of dying from flu-related complications, and it is time for Malaysians to wake up and take action to protect themselves from the flu.

In Malaysia, influenza, or better known as flu, has returned with a vengeance after Covid-19 restrictions were relaxed mid last year.

This may not have come as a surprise because flu is also a contagious respiratory illness like Covid-19.

When the restrictions for Covid-19 are relaxed, it gives opportunity for flu transmission in the community.

Flu cases spiked in late 2021 and showed an upward trend into 2022, according to data compiled by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Flu is often mistakenly confused as a common cold like-illness and can be dangerous for many people, leading to complications that are potentially life-threatening.

However, most Malaysians underestimate the importance of flu prevention ― vaccination rates remain low and common misconceptions about the flu lead to confusion and vaccine hesitancy.

As a result, many people do not see the dangerous connection between flu and heart disease.

Statistically, the risk of dying from flu is five times higher for those with heart disease and 20 times higher for those with heart and pulmonary disease .

Flu also increases the risk for first heart attack by 10 times in adults above 40 years.

“The effects of flu are compounded by factors like increasing age and heart disease,” said Dr Choo Gim Hooi, Cardiac Vascular Sentral Kuala Lumpur (CVSKL) consultant cardiologist, and National Heart Association of Malaysia council member.

“This makes flu a significant threat for Malaysians as statistics show that ischaemic heart disease, a term given to heart problems caused by narrowed heart arteries, is the principal cause of death in the country, followed by pneumonia, which is often a complication of flu.

“Furthermore, our ageing population is on an upward trend and older persons are more likely to have weakened immune systems and comorbid conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.”

Dr Choo said a combination of these factors exponentially increase the risk for flu related complications, which can be fatal.

Individuals 65 years and above are classified by WHO as a high-risk group who are more likely to experience severe illness and/or complications such as pneumonia, inflammation of the heart and sepsis (a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when the body's response to an infection damages its own tissues) as a result of flu.

However, many older persons remain unaware of how severe infectious diseases like the flu can affect them or that they are vulnerable to contract flu from contacts with their adult children and young grandchildren.

Facts about flu, age and chronic illnesses. ― Infographic courtesy of the ‘Flu Prevention is an Act of Love’ campaign
Facts about flu, age and chronic illnesses. ― Infographic courtesy of the ‘Flu Prevention is an Act of Love’ campaign

Facts about flu, age and chronic illnesses. ― Infographic courtesy of the ‘Flu Prevention is an Act of Love’ campaign

Dr Choo said an estimated 85 per cent of all flu-related deaths occur in those 65 and above.

“While it is unclear how many of these deaths are directly caused by flu, evidence shows that annual flu vaccination in those aged 50 and above lead to lower rates of flu hospitalisation, admission to intensive care units, flu-related complications, and death.”

“This clearly shows that flu vaccines have a protective effect, and Malaysians ― especially our older persons ― need to be aware that they can take action against the flu with an annual vaccination.”

To help dispel misconceptions and raise awareness, the “Flu Prevention is an Act of Love” Campaign advocates the importance of annual flu vaccination as part of a holistic approach towards healthy ageing.

With flu affecting older persons more severely, the new campaign theme ‘Preventing the Flu at 65 & Beyond, I Get It Done’, supported by the Health Ministry, is a call for Malaysia’s ageing population to take the necessary steps to preserve their health, independence and quality of life.

These steps are laid out in the campaign’s ‘7 Keys to Happy & Healthy Ageing’, which are: eating a healthy diet, staying physically active, getting adequate rest and sleep, going for regular health check-ups, learning new skills, socialising with loved ones, and getting the flu vaccination to reduce the risk for flu-related complications, hospitalisation and death.

Get yourself protected against the flu. ― Picture courtesy of the ‘Flu Prevention is an Act of Love’ campaign
Get yourself protected against the flu. ― Picture courtesy of the ‘Flu Prevention is an Act of Love’ campaign

Get yourself protected against the flu. ― Picture courtesy of the ‘Flu Prevention is an Act of Love’ campaign

Take the first step and learn more about protecting vulnerable, high-risk groups such as older persons from the “Flu Prevention is an Act of Love” Campaign website. Click here for more information.