Annual flu vaccinations are the best way to prevent acute respiratory illness, a study by a scientist at the Delhi University has said. The study added that flu shots would also ensure that breathing problems do not get worse.
Headed by Dr Balakrishnan Menon from the Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute at the University of Delhi, India, the study was conducted on 87 male patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) - a major cause of ill health and death.
"COPD is a serious lung disease that causes breathing problems and is responsible for a significant number of outpatient and emergency department visits as well as inpatient hospital stays. It has increased by 40 per cent since 1942 and is now the world's fourth leading cause of death and twelfth leading cause of disability. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by 2020 it will become the third leading cause of death and rise significantly in the disability stakes to fifth place," said Menon.
He added: "Most of the healthcare costs associated with COPD are due to problems that worsen the condition and infections caused by the influenza virus are major culprits. Despite the WHO's recommendation that all patients with COPD should receive the annual flu vaccine, the injection is not used as widely as it could be, especially in developing countries. Our research suggests that this could be leading to higher levels of respiratory problems and that these extra healthcare costs could be avoided by improving the uptake of this simple preventative measure."
All the COPD patients in the study were under 65 years of age and they were monitored for a year before and after they received the vaccine for the first time.
The researchers observed an overall decline of 67 per cent in the incidence of acute respiratory illness and acute exacerbation of COPD, with 24 patients experiencing them before they received the vaccine and 8 experiencing them in the post-vaccination period.
In fact, the effectiveness of the vaccine also varied and people with mild or moderate COPD saw a 60 per cent reduction in overall incidence and people with severe COPD enjoyed a 75 per cent reduction. Outpatient visits fell by 50 per cent after vaccination and there was also a 70 per cent reduction in the number of hospitalised study participants.
Within this 2 year period of study, patients attended monthly check-ups and received the same level of medication, healthcare and lifestyle advice. Any respiratory problems were also carefully monitored.
"Influenza viruses are a major cause of death and serious illness in elderly people, particularly if they suffer from COPD.Our study was undertaken in a population where uptake of the vaccine is traditionally low and it had a marked effect on the men who received it. This could also explain why our 67 per cent reduction was higher than the 32 to 45 per cent falls reported by previous studies carried out in populations where the vaccine is more common," said Menon.
He added: "We believe that our research underlines the importance of increasing vaccine use worldwide, especially in patients with COPD and in areas where the flu vaccination rate is low. It is clear that annual flu vaccinations have a major role to play in bringing down the number of preventable deaths and hospital admissions that occur every year in patients with chronic lung diseases."
The study is published in the current issue of IJCP, the UK-based International Journal of Clinical Practice.