The flu vaccine protects against more than just influenza ― it also reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke by about one-third, according to studies published by the British Medical Journal Heart and the Journal of the American Medical Association. This February during American Heart Month, Texas physicians urge everyone who hasn’t yet received an annual flu shot to get vaccinated.

“The flu season is a dangerous time for people with heart disease. When patients with heart disease get the flu, it puts more stress on their cardiovascular system, and they are at increased risk for life-threatening complications like pneumonia, respiratory failure, and heart attacks,” said San Marcos internist Lenore DePagter, DO, MBA. Dr. DePagter is a member of the Texas Medical Association’s (TMA’s) Be Wise — ImmunizeSM Physician Advisory Panel.

Texas physicians say an annual flu shot is essential for patients with chronic medical conditions — including heart disease but also liver or kidney disease, asthma or other lung disease, and diabetes, as these patients run a higher risk of complications with an influenza infection.

“Everyone six months of age and older should be vaccinated against the flu. This is especially true for at-risk populations such as people with chronic medical conditions, the elderly, young children, and pregnant women,” said Dr. DePagter.

Physicians also urge those living with or caring for people with heart disease to get vaccinated against the flu to lower the risk that they will spread the illness.

In addition to being American Heart Month, February is peak flu season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports increasing flu activity across the country, including reports of deaths from severe influenza illness. It is not too late to get a flu shot. Physicians will continue to vaccinate patients as long as the viruses are circulating.

“The flu vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent a life-threatening illness, especially for those at-risk populations. If you have heart disease or any chronic medical condition, getting a flu shot could save your life,” said Dr. DePagter.

For flu facts at a glance, check out TMA’s flu infographic, available in English and Spanish. TMA also created a fact sheet for more in-depth information about the importance of an annual flu vaccination.