Canadian Study Shows Flu Vaccine May Help Prevent Stroke |

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Researchers at the University of Calgary have found a positive connection between the annual flu shot and stroke prevention.

The study, which is receiving international attention, took a decade of data from health records in Alberta and looked at the risk of stroke after getting vaccinated against influenza.

“Throughout the study, we saw a decreased risk of stroke in that six-month period after influenza vaccination,” study author Dr. Jessalyn Holodinsky told Global News.

The latest research builds on existing scientific knowledge of a connection between influenza infection and stroke.

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“There is a long history between infections and strokes (upper respiratory infections are associated with strokes), so it was a natural thing to start looking at this,” said Dr. Michael Hill.

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“In addition, there is a link between influenza and myocardial infarction (heart attacks), and therefore establishing the links to stroke was a natural next step.”

Hill called it a “definitive study” and anticipated another to follow.

The research was published in The Lancet Public Healthprestigious scientific journal.

Holodinsky said the quality and depth of the dataset the team was analyzing produced some surprising results in the connection between the flu vaccine and stroke prevention.

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“What surprised me was the magnitude. I was not surprised that the effect existed, but I was surprised by how strong the effect was and especially that the effect existed for all adults,” he said, noting that there was a protective effect regardless of the existence of chronic conditions.

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“We all seem to benefit from this.”

Hill said the connection between a stroke or heart attack and upper respiratory infections like the flu or strep might apply to COVID-19 as well.

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“We know pathologically that some of the mechanisms of stroke are related to specific bacteria or viruses that will infect not only the lungs or bronchioles, but also plaque in the carotid artery, for example. So there is some mechanistic reason to believe that prevention of upper respiratory infections will also reduce the risk of ischemic events such as stroke,” he said.

For Holodinsky, the message of the data is clear.

“What a great added bonus here as well, that (the flu shot) could also be influencing your cardiovascular risk profile,” he said. “I think this is a great message for the public, especially now that flu vaccination season is approaching, to get out there and consider getting a flu shot.”

slow absorption

Albertans are coming out to get their flu shots, but at a slower rate than in previous years. In the first week that the vaccines were made available to the public, almost 300,000 doses were administered.

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“That’s about 6.5 percent of the population. Comparing that to last year, we were already over 10 percent in that same time period,” said Dr. Karla Gustafson, medical director of health for the AHS Calgary Zone. “So there is definitely room for improvement with the uptake of the vaccine.”

Last flu season, 467,521 doses went into the arms of Albertans.

A Calgary pharmacist said this early flu season is the busiest she’s had in recent memory, attesting to knowledge of COVID-19 vaccines.

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“Everyone is very excited to get a flu shot,” Laila Kharoub of Sirocco Pharmacy told Global News. “The COVID vaccination made people more aware of the importance of the flu shot. So it’s been a very busy year for us.”

Kharoub’s pharmacy has been seeing 70 to 80 customers a day for flu shots since it became widely available on Oct. 17, and more people across a broader age range than in previous years.

Hill said he is personally more worried about the flu this fall and winter than he is about COVID, given how the flu hit other countries earlier this year.

“They were pretty successful in Australia and the southern hemisphere, and usually when it’s bad in the southern hemisphere, it’s bad in the northern hemisphere,” Hill said.

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“It’s not a perfect relationship, but I think we could be very successful this winter.”

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As of October 16, Alberta had 47 active laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza A and influenza B. The week before, there were only 28 cases of influenza. Throughout this flu season there were 138 cases in total, with 21 people hospitalized and four in the ICU.

The medical officer of health said vaccination can lighten the load on already stressed hospitals across the province.

“We do want to have that capacity in the health system to help people when they need it most and I’m sure no one wants to be hospitalized with a respiratory virus,” she said. “So the vaccine really is your best protection against that.”

Gustafson understands any fatigue from getting another shot, but said there’s no better time to get vaccinated.

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“With the flu here and on the rise, it’s really important that people put in a little bit of effort to get out there and get vaccinated against the flu.”

–with files from Su-Ling Goh and Craig Momney, Global News

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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