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Dangerous flu strain caused jump in winter deaths

20 December 2018 08:23

Over 65s are advised to get vaccinated against flu

Over 65s are advised to get vaccinated against flu

Winter is known to cause a spike in heart-related deaths, but last year these "excess" fatalities rose by 55% thanks in part to a particularly nasty flu strain, according to a leading charity.

The British Heart Foundation says an additional 11,500 people in England and Wales died from heart and circulatory diseases last winter when compared to similar deaths in warmer months.

This equates to around 650 excess heart-related deaths every week from December 2017 to March 2018 - 55% higher than the same period in 2016/17.

Significant increase

The foundation said last year's colder-than-average winter likely contributed to the "significant" increase, as did a strong winter flu strain coupled with a less effective vaccine.

As the winter chill sets in across the UK, BHF is urging anyone over 65 and people with existing heart or respiratory conditions to get vaccinated against the flu.

"Last winter took a grim toll on people with heart and circulatory diseases," BHF senior cardiac nurse Christopher Allen said. "It shows just how important high uptake of an effective flu jab is.

"We know that flu vaccines can reduce the risk of cardiovascular death in people living with coronary heart disease by around a quarter, so it is absolutely vital that people living with these conditions protect themselves."

Greater risk

The flu weakens the respiratory system the heart relies on and people who have had a heart attack before are at greater risk of having another if they contract the virus, BHF said.

Meanwhile, cold temperatures are more dangerous for people with heart and circulatory diseases because the heart must work harder to keep the body warm.

This can lead to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, which can be particularly troublesome for people with an existing condition.

Cold temperatures can also cause changes to the blood and increase the risk of blood clots forming, which can cause a heart attack or stroke.

The new figures from the Office for National Statistics also showed that in total there were an estimated 50,100 extra winter deaths from December 2017 to March 2018, the highest in more than 40 years.

Dementia and Alzheimer's disease accounted for 21.6% (10,800) of all winter deaths, the ONS figures revealed.

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