Breathe more easily: Flu vaccines benefit COPD sufferers

Researchers have found a surprising benefit for flu vaccines.

Pre-filled M-001 universal flu vaccine syringes  (photo credit: BIONDVAX)
Pre-filled M-001 universal flu vaccine syringes
(photo credit: BIONDVAX)

A new study shows that seasonal flu vaccines reduce the risk of heart rhythm disorders in COPD sufferers. COPD is a chronic lung disease that causes the deaths of 3,000,000 people a year worldwide.

There are many benefits of the flu vaccine. 

Annual injections protect you from a potentially dangerous disease, reduce coronavirus morbidity and even guard against dementia. And if all of these benefits don’t convince you to get vaccinated, a new study shows a surprising bonus of the vaccine other than protection from flu.

The first study of its kind in the world examined the possible link between influenza vaccine and cardiac arrhythmia in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The researchers found that the vaccine reduced heart rhythm disruptions in people with COPD by 38% percent, and the risk to people with other medical conditions by 72%.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine, was edited by the Taiwanese Health Ministry and included 18,658 people with COPD aged 55 and over between the years 2001-2012.

Every year three million people die of COPD

Dr. David Shitrit, director of the pulmonary department at Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba, notes that in Israel there are an estimated 400,000 people with COPD, of whom between 70% to 80% are undiagnosed. This disease has been declared by the World Health Organization as the third leading cause of death in the world.  An estimated 3,000,000 people worldwide die from COPD every year. Despite this most people don’t know about it.


Many patients smoke

According to Shitrit, most patients are smokers or ex-smokers who suffer from symptoms of shortness of breath and cough, but attribute their symptoms to smoking or poor physical fitness, and therefore don’t see a doctor for a formal diagnosis. He adds that this leads to a steady deterioration and high mortality rates. It’s estimated that 3,000 Israelis die from COPD annually. It’s very important to raise public awareness. People don’t realize that it’s possible to treat, improve one’s condition, slow disease advancement and slow the rate of deterioration from the disease by treatment with inhalers and pulmonary rehabilitation.

Influenza vaccination can prevent dangerous deterioration in patients

Now, it turns out that a flu vaccine can also prevent deterioration. 

In the study, patients were divided into two groups, those who received the flu vaccine and those who didn’t. Researchers examined abnormal health events in close proximity to the vaccine and over several years, and found that there was a significant reduction in the risk of heart rate disorders in COPD patients aged 55 to 74 during the flu season and in all other seasons. It was found that during the flu season there was a 38% reduction, versus a 31% to 35% reduction in other seasons.

Also, a reduction in the risk of heart rhythm disorders was seen in patients with underlying medical conditions. 

Receiving one vaccine reduced the risk of heart rhythm disorders in COPD patients who also suffer from hypertension, diabetes, heart failure, vascular diseases and more. 

One dose of vaccine reduced the risk by 72% and two doses of vaccine reduced the risk by 73% in all seasons. However, from the age of 75 onwards there was no significant reduction in risk due to the proliferation of underlying medical conditions.

Researchers noted that the vaccine not only reduces the risk of developing atrial fibrillation but also the risk of cardiac arrest in patients without a history of heart disease. 

Shitrit states that "there isn’t enough awareness that even one bed incidence of COPD can lead to more serious consequences, including a rapid decrease in lung function, a twofold increase in the risk of myocardial infarction within one to five days of the exacerbation and a significant increase in mortality."

Studies have shown a 55% risk of death within five years of the stress factor that led to hospitalization. 

Shitrit stressed that it’s crucial to see your doctor as soon as possible, get a diagnosis and start treatment. He adds that there are many things that can be done. Number one is stopping smoking, then a seasonal flu vaccine, pneumonia vaccine and also regular treatment. COPD medical treatment involves the use of several different inhalers. To avoid confusion and increase patient responsiveness a three-component triple inhaler has recently been developed. Three medications in one inhaler used once daily can be an attractive alternative for many patients.