Swine Flu and Heart Disease Update April 30th 2009
Following our previous article on ‘swine flu, influenza and heart disease‘, we’ve decided to closely monitor and track the global progression of the swine flu virus, and inform you regularly of the relevant facts and breaking news. This is because this disease has special relevance for many of our readers who are heart disease patients, or any other individuals who have a suppressed immune system as a result of a heart related complaint. Because any kind of heart disease carries a greater risk of dying from any type of influenza it is extremely important to monitor the facts, and know how best to avoid contracting the illness.
Known facts about the flu outbreak as of April 30th 2009
The situation regarding the 2009 influenza outbreak is changing rapidly, so With so much information and speculation flying around we’re going to summarise the main known facts :
- The World Health Organisation have upgraded the pandemic status of this disease from 4 to 5, on a scale of 6
- This means that a worldwide spread of the disease (or pandemic) is now imminent and cannot be stopped by any form of border controls or other human intervention. Level 6 means that the pandemic is established
- There have been 109 confirmed cases of the illness in the United States, and 8 cases in the United Kingdom to date. Almost all the deaths from the flu so far have occurred in Mexico
- There is no vaccination available anywhere in the world against the swine flu, because it is a brand new strain – no one can at present obtain immunity
- The United Kingdom Government have announced their intention to leaflet more than 30 million homes, with information and advice titled ‘important information about swine flu’
UK Government to leaflet over 30 million homes with Swine Flu information leaflet
We’ve had an advanced look at the 11 page information booklet to be deliverd by the UK government into every UK home. Here is a summary of their advice to us citizens :
- Title page with information, help line phone number + 44 800 1 513 513
- Page 2 – A page of useful health agency and government contacts
- Page 3 – An explanation of what the leaflet is about
- Page 4 – A description of the swine flu and warnings of no immunity to the virus being possible
- Page 5 – A summary of how the virus spreads
- Page 6 – A statement of the preparedness of the UK government, and their stockpiles of anti-viral drugs
- Page 7 – Statement that no vaccination is currently available
- Page 8 – Hygiene advice to prevent infection
- Page 9 – Flu Symptoms and instruction not to attend the Doctors surgery, but telephone for advice
- Page 10 – Statement about face masks being ineffective
- Page 11 – Instruction to use facial tissues, ensure safe disposal and wash hands
Perhaps the most surprising information from the leaflet is that the official government information is telling us that wearing a facial mask provides no protection against catching the virus. The TV footage from the affected areas in Mexico shows medical and government workers all wearing face masks for protection.
We’ll be tracking this story constantly and publishing regular updates for the benefit of our heart health conscious readers. If you wish to subscribe to our RSS feed, you can have any updates delivered automatically to your web browser.
Loneliness, depression and heart disease
We’ve all heard of the expression ‘he/she died of a broken heart’. But this old saying may be closer to the truth than you think. ‘Broken heart’ is a colloquial expression that can mask many reasons for severe unhappiness, including those that result from relationship breakdown, loneliness and depression.
These two interrelated conditions often go hand in hand, and if you are unfortunate to suffer from depression, you have more than double the average risk of suffering a fatal heart attack. When we are isolated from familiar contacts such as family members, friends and acquaintances from work, then we inevitably suffer from elevated blood pressure and our bodies become more prone to all types of infection and illness, including heart disease.
Modern society has more loneliness and depression
Our modern society has more loneliness and depression than any previous generation due to the relentless increase in divorce, family breakdown, and growth of single person households, plus an aging population. This leads to increased blood pressure readings – up to thirty points higher, compared to similar people who are in stable personal and family relationships and who have active social lives.
The problem is linked to raised levels of the hormone cortisol, that has a direct relationship to higher blood pressure. Raising blood pressure by this amount can move the sufferer from normal blood pressure to pre-hypertension or full hypertension. This in turn leads to a trebling of the risk of developing heart disease and stroke, and more than double the mortality rate from suffering from the conditions.
The problem is even greater in those who are more the most reclusive in their social behaviour, and in this group of people who have significantly less contact with other human beings, the effects on their health is comparable to the risk of developing heart illness from known poor lifestyle factors such as smoking and unhealthy diet.
Women may be particularly at risk from heart disease due to depression
Depression in women leads to an even greater risk of dying from heart-related complaints such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart arrhythmia and diabetes, and it appears that the risk is proprtional to the severity of the depression. Unfortunately, taking anti-depressant medication does not seem to improve the situation for most women suffering from depression. There are worrying concerns among the medical profession that there could be a relationship between the anti-depressants and the increased incidence heart problems in women taking the medicine, including twice the risk of suffering from sudden cardiac death.
What can be done to reduce loneliness and depression?
Professor John Cacioppo from the University of Chicago has studied the phenomena and has recommended that a few strong relationships are of greater value than many acquaintances of lesser value. This underpins the value of personal and family relationships, above contemporary alternative forms of social contact such as those developed by casual contact or contacts developed from the Internet that may not produce physical meeting, or contact between the participants in the relationship
Swine Flu, Influenza and Heart Disease
We are facing the possibility of a global influenza pandemic due to an outbreak of a type of flu known as swine flu that has recently broken out in parts of Mexico, and is now rapidly spreading to all parts of the world.
The World health organisation has issued a statement that containment of the virus is now not possible, and that we should prepare for a possible global influenza pandemic. This is because the virus is capable of spreading rapidly from person to person.
This has special relevance for people with heart disease. If you have existing heart disease you should be aware that it is generally safe for you to get a flu vaccination. But It is also true that your risk of dying from contracting flu, swine flu, bird flu or any other type of influenza is higher than those of any other group of people suffering from a chronic illness.
Additionally, those suffering from heart disease are at greater risk of developing complications from all types of influenza. These complications include breathing problems and lack of bodily hydration that can cause problems for existing heart related and other illnesses, such as heart failure, asthma and diabetes, and may even trigger a myocardial infarction (heart attack).
Precautions for preventing spread of disease
The official advice from the UK government is that this highly contagious illness is spread by bodily fluids from coughing and sneezing. The following tips should therefore be followed to minimise your risk, and should you become ill with flu-like symptoms, prevent the risk of spreading the virus to others:
- Avoid contact with people with suspected infection
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water
If you develop cold and flu-like symptoms yourself :-
- Quarantine yourself if possible, and avoid close contact with others
- Use disposable tissues, always cover your mouth and nose, and dispose of your waste carefully
- seek medical advice by telephone initially, and follow your doctors advice
Is there a specific vaccine for swine flu?
There is currently no vaccine that is specifically targetted towards the latest outbreak of swine flu, and it will take scientists an estimated 6 months to develop one. However, regular flu medication such as Tamiflu and Relenza contains anti viral components that can mitigate some of the effects of the new virus. These existing influenza drugs will help to reduce the severity of the illness, and will also reduce the risk of heart attack in heart disease sufferers.
Although prevention is always better than cure, those of us who are immunised against existing strains of influenza may be protected from the more severe effects of the virus if we are unfortunate enough to contract the new strain.
Can I get swine flu from eating pork or pig products?
Fortunately, the swine flu virus cannot be transmitted by eating any type of food, including pork or any other food products derived from pigs.
Seasonal flu already causes thousands of deaths each year
We should not forget that outbreaks of the seasonal human influenza virus already causes tens of thousands of deaths each year in the United States and the United Kingdom. This is why physicians advise that vulnerable groups of people such as younger people and older adults are vaccinated against flu. However because people with heart disease have higher rates of complications if they do catch flu, this advice is more important for people who have heart conditions.
Warnings about flu vaccination
It is generally safe and advisable for heart disease patients to be immunised against flu. However there are a few warnings that you should be aware of :-
- You should have your flu jab done with a needle, as nasal sprays contain live virus and can trigger adverse reactions
- If you’re allergic to eggs you should consult with your doctor before taking any anti-influenza medication. This is because the drug may contain traces of egg due to the production process, and your doctor will need to balance the risks of getting the vaccine against the risk of allergic reaction
This article has been updated with new information. For the latest information please visit ‘swine flu and heart disease update April 30th 2009‘
Salt may not be so bad for blood pressure
For many years we’ve been told by scientists and dieticians that too much salt is bad for us, and causes high blood pressure (hypertension), and damages the walls of our arteries (atherosclerosis), leading to coronary heart disease and stroke. However, new research from Loyola University in Chicago may have to cause us to rethink.
Apparently, salt on it’s own is not the only factor that determines whether we suffer harmful consequences from our sodium intake, and we may have to look at another essential compound in our diets – potassium. We’ve looked at the benefits of dietary potassium in a previous article which you can read here, but this new evidence is compelling and requires us to take notice and act accordingly.
The results of the Loyola study have shown that the quantity of salt consumed is less important than the ratio of salt to potassium intake. This is because salt is responsible for raising the blood pressure, whilst potassium has the ability to actually reduce blood pressure. If the balance between the two compounds is right, then larger quantities of salt are offset by larger quantities of potassium.
These conclusions seem to be supported by thorough evidence, conducted over 15 years and involving almost 3000 patient volunteers. The report was presented by Doctor Paul Whelton, president of the Loyola University Health Division.
How much daily potassium and how much sodium should I be consuming ?
Dr. Whelton’s report recommends an average adult daily intake of potassium equivalent to 4.7 grams or 4700 milligrams, and a salt intake of 6 grams or 6000 milligrams. However, most of us are not consuming enough potassium, and ARE consuming too much salt. Even the official United Kingdom recommended daily amount is only 3.7 grams.
How can I increase my daily potassium intake ?
Certain commonly available foods contain much greater quantities of potassium than others. If you are concerned about improving your artery health and lowering your blood pressure you should consider increasing your consumption of the following fruits, vegetables and nuts that have higher than average amounts of potassium :-
- Avocado – 1204 milligrams per fruit
- Kiwi Fruit – 588 milligrams per kiwi
- Banana – 467 milligrams per banana
- Tomato – 396 milligrams per medium tomato
- Lima beans – 955 milligrams per cup
- Potato – 610 milligrams for a mediuim baked potato
- Broccoli – 456 milligrams per cup
- Peas – 433 milligrams per cup
- Artichoke – 425 milligrams per medium artichoke
- Chestnuts – 497 milligrams per 10 nuts
- Sunflower seeds – 327 milligrams per ounce
- Pistachio nuts – 295 milligrams per ounce
- Pumpkin seeds 260 milligrams per ounce
Should I decrease my daily salt consumption ?
The recommended average adult daily salt intake, according to Dr. Whelton is 6 milligrams, and there is no clear medical evidence to suggest that reducing this daily amount is beneficial to heart health. On the contrary it may be counter-productive to heart health to consume less than this amount, according to a 2005 study by Albert Einstein college of medicine in New York. This 13 year research involving 7000 people concluded that consuming less than 6 grams of salt per day increases our risk of contracting heart disease.