This kind of forecasting could improve preparation and management of annual flu outbreaks in the United States, said Irene Eckstrand of the National Institutes of Health.

London - The flu jab may ward off heart attacks as well as offering protection from the infectious disease, according to a study.

Researchers found that the jab can reduce the risk of a heart attack by 50 percent and cardiac deaths by 40 percent.

They said the influenza vaccine could be an important treatment for maintaining heart health and protecting against cardiovascular events such as strokes and heart attacks.

Cardiologist Jacob Udell and his team looked at published clinical trials on the subject dating back to the 1960s.

‘For those who had the flu shot, there was a pretty strong risk reduction,’ said Dr Udell.

The flu vaccine provided an approximate 50 percent reduction in the risk of a heart attack or stroke compared with a placebo after one year of follow-up.

The vaccine reduced the risk of such cardiovascular events as well as actual deaths from them in people with or without heart disease.

The combined studies examined a total of 3,227 patients, with an almost equal split between patients with and without established heart disease.

Half of the participants were randomly assigned to receive flu vaccine. The others received a placebo vaccine.

Dr Udell said the results provide support for current guideline recommendations for giving the flu jab to those who have previously had a heart attack, but for a different reason than simply reducing flu risk. While the reason for the link is not clear, Dr Udell said it may be that when people develop heart disease some factor ‘tips them over the edge’, such as plaque clogging arteries or lower levels of oxygen, as a result of the flu.

The flu vaccine may stop this by preventing flu, or by actually breaking up plaque in the arteries. He said he believed a bigger study would comprehensively demonstrate the vaccine’s effectiveness to reduce fatal cardiac events.

The research could also boost take-up of the vaccine.

Dr Udell, a cardiologist at Women’s College Hospital and the University of Toronto, said: ‘The use of the vaccine is still much too low, less than 50 percent of the general population. It’s even poorly used among health care workers.

‘Imagine if this vaccine could also be a proven way to prevent heart disease.’

Dr Udell carried out his study with a team from the TIMI Study Group and Network for Innovation in Clinical Research.

The findings were presented at the 2012 Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Toronto.

Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesman Doctor Beth Abramson said the study strengthens National Advisory Committee for Immunisation recommendations for the use of the influenza vaccine in those at high risk of developing flu-related complications, such as patients with heart disease or diabetes.

She said: ‘In addition to leading a heart healthy life, having an annual flu shot could be another easy way to help prevent cardiac events.’ - Daily Mail