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HomeHealth & FitnessRespiratory Viruses, Including COVID-19 and Flu, Raise Concerns for Cardiovascular Health

Respiratory Viruses, Including COVID-19 and Flu, Raise Concerns for Cardiovascular Health

As the United States grapples with the surge of respiratory viruses, such as COVID-19 and influenza, health experts are issuing warnings about the potential increase in cardiovascular complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that weekly COVID hospitalizations stand at 32,861 for the week ending Jan. 13, a figure lower than the previous week but comparable to levels observed in January 2023. Concurrently, there were 14,874 weekly flu hospitalizations, indicating a decrease from the previous week but remaining comparable to November 2023 levels.

Contrary to common belief that respiratory illnesses primarily affect the respiratory system, Dr. Deepak Bhatt, director of Mount Sinai Fuster Heart Hospital in New York City, highlights two potential pathways through which these infections can contribute to heart problems. Firstly, severe respiratory infections, like influenza, can lead to complications such as high fever or dehydration, posing a risk for heart problems, especially in individuals with pre-existing heart conditions. Fever and dehydration can elevate heart rate and, in those with heart disease or risk factors, this can be particularly dangerous. Additionally, respiratory infections can induce inflammation, potentially causing blood clots in plaque-formed areas of the arteries, leading to heart attacks.

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The second, rarer pathway involves myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, usually following a viral infection. Myocarditis can result in arrhythmias, and abnormal heartbeats, and weaken the heart muscle, causing cardiomyopathy, and impacting the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. In extreme cases, myocarditis can lead to heart failure and cardiogenic shock, even in otherwise healthy individuals.

Dr. Bhatt emphasizes the importance of vaccination against flu, COVID-19, and RSV, especially for older adults. Despite the benefits of vaccination, CDC data reveals that uptake has been slow, with only 21.5% of adults aged 18 and older receiving the updated COVID-19 vaccine and 46.7% getting the flu shot. Furthermore, only 2.1% of adults aged 60 and older have received the RSV vaccine.

Given the potential risks, Dr. Bhatt advises individuals to seek medical attention if experiencing chest pain or worsening breathlessness, regardless of underlying conditions. Rapid response, including calling 911, is crucial in the event of severe chest discomfort, as it could indicate cardiovascular complications, even in individuals unaware of their heart disease. Vigilance and prompt action are essential to address the intersection of respiratory infections and potential cardiovascular threats.

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