Can flu vaccine prevent heart attack?

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While researching an immunology story for Discover magazine, I just ran across an interesting study in the New England Journal of Medicine: "Influenza Vaccination and Reduction in Hospitalizations for Cardiac Disease." 

The fascinating part for me (immunology nerd that I am) is the finding that when someone has the flu, the immune system's infection-fighting response directly promotes arterial inflammation and plaque in a way that can trigger heart attack and stroke.

Meanwhile, it turns out that cardiology researchers have been giving flu vaccine to men with established cardiovascular disease in placebo-controlled studies. The result: Those who got the genuine flu jab were half as likely to die of heart attack over the next six months than were those who got the placebo.  

In fact, researchers are suggesting that the protection from flu vaccination might be due to more than flu prevention. Vaccination may, in fact, generate an immune response that helps clear away artery-clogging plaque.  

At the same time, they're acknowledging that tinkering with immune responses can have unexpected--and not always welcome--results. Stay tuned ...

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