With flu season just around the corner, it is important to take an active role in keeping yourself and your family healthy. The flu vaccine is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get seasonal flu and spread it to others.

Dr. Clara Massey, professor of internal medicine and director of the division of cardiology at the University of South Alabama, said while the flu vaccine is important for many, it is especially important for those with known coronary artery disease.

Dr. Massey, who is a cardiologist with USA Physicians Group, said patients with coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease, are at particular risk for the influenza virus to trigger a heart attack.

“By getting the vaccine,” she said, “you reduce that risk dramatically.”

According to a recent study of more than 500 hospital patients by researchers at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, immunization against the respiratory illness lowered the probability of heart attack by 45 percent.

Coronary arteries, explained Dr. Massey, are the fuel pipes for the heart muscle. With coronary artery disease, the arteries that supply blood to heart muscle become inflamed and narrowed due to the buildup of cholesterol plaques.

Acute infections, such as influenza, cause the body to increase production of disease-fighting inflammatory proteins in the blood that can result in cholesterol plaque instability. This makes the plaque vulnerable to rupture, which triggers a heart attack.

Although this can happen in anyone with coronary artery disease, people who are most susceptible are those who have had a recent heart attack.

Also, if you have diabetes, chronic kidney disease, high BP or you smoke, you are at higher risk to have cholesterol buildup and plaque rupture that can trigger a heart attack, Dr. Massey added.

A scientific advisory by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recommends an annual flu vaccine in injection form for cardiovascular disease patients.

In addition to those with heart disease, it is also especially important for those who are considered high risk to get vaccinated. This includes people who have certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease; pregnant women; and people younger than 5 years and people 65 years and older.

USA Physicians Group will be providing seasonal flu shots free of charge for USA Employees on Oct. 9-11, 2013. No appointments are necessary. Family members covered by the USA Health and Dental Plan are also eligible for seasonal flu vaccines at these clinic sites free of charge. This applies to children four years old and older.

For details on dates/times and locations of clinics, visit www.usahealthsystem.com/fluvaccine.

To learn more about influenza, click here.

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