NEW YORK (CBS 2) — The muscle aches, runny nose and fever of the flu are enough of a reason to get vaccinated.

And now that vaccine may have some heart healthy benefits.

The flu can leave even the healthiest person unable to get out of bed for a week. And the single best way to protect against it is to get vaccinated each year. But now there may be another reason to grin and bare the shot — it can lower your risk of having a heart attack.

Rob Aiudi gets his flu shot because he doesn’t ever want to get sick again.

“If it’s going to prevent a week of horrible headaches and body aches, I’m into it. I just don’t want to feel so awful,” Aiudi said.

And now there may be an added benefit. A new study shows the flu vaccine lowers the risk of a heart attack by 19 percent.

“Heart attacks are most prevalent during the winter months due to the stress of the cold and the development of upper respiratory tract infections like the flu,” Dr. Frank Spinelli said.

Researchers found that when you get the vaccine is key. Getting it early in the season reduces the risk 21 percent, while waiting until mid-November or later only reduces your risk 12 percent.

This year the flu shot protects against three different forms of the flu, including H1N1 or the swine flu. The Centers for Disease Control hopes to vaccinate even more than the 180 million who got the shot last year.

Experts aren’t sure what the connection is between the flu and heart attacks, but the theory is that respiratory infections trigger plaques in the arteries to break off and go to the heart.

“Heart attacks are caused by lack of oxygen to the blood. This is caused by clogged arteries or plaque buildup,” Dr. Spinelli said.

Aiudi doesn’t have a history of heart disease, but he’s happy to know he’s doing something good for his heart.

“I’m 51 so anything that’s going to help me live a little longer is probably a good idea and I certainly don’t want to have a heart attack,” he said.

If more studies back up the findings, it may lead to more people getting the vaccine.

Researchers also looked at whether the pneumonia vaccine also lowered the risk of a heart attack, but only the flu vaccine seemed to help.

The CDC recommends the shot for everyone 6 months and older.


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