Flu linked to an increased risk of stroke

Lorraine: Dr Hilary busts cold and flu myths

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The research, conducted by the American Heart Association, suggested that flu and flu-like illnesses were associated with an increased risk of stroke.

They found someone’s risk of an ischaemic stroke rose by nearly 40 percent over a 15-day period after the flu.

Lead study author Dr Amelia Boehme said: “We were expecting to see differences in the flu-stroke association between rural and urban areas. Instead we found the association between flu-like illness and stroke was similar between people living in rural and urban areas, as well as for men and women, and among racial groups.”

Why does the flu increase the risk of a stroke?

On this, the researchers were uncertain and said there was no conclusive reason as to why the flu increased someone’s likelihood of having a stroke.

One potential reason for the increase in risk could be due to the inflammation caused by the flu, a factor which plays a key role in heart disease.

What are the main symptoms of the flu?

The main symptoms of the flu are:
• A sudden high temperature
• An aching body
• Feeling tired or exhausted
• A dry cough
• Sore throat
• Headache
• Difficulty sleeping
• Loss of appetite
• Diarrhoea
• Tummy pain
• Feeling sick
• Being sick (vomiting).

In common with other conditions, how the body reacts to the flu can be affected by a range of factors; including the use of antibiotics.

Another 2019 study, this time published by the Francis Crick Institute, said there was evidence to suggest that antibiotics affected how the body reacted to the flu.

They said their evidence showed that it weakened the body’s defences.

Publishing their research in the Cell Reports journal, lead research Dr Andreas Wack said: “We found that antibiotics can wipe out early flu resistance, adding further evidence that they should not be taken or prescribed lightly.”

In recent years, there has been growing concern about the growth of antibiotic resistant bugs, those which can evade and resist antibiotic treatments.

As a result, the world is growing short on antibiotics which are effective against certain conditions. Dr Wack added: “Inappropriate use not only promotes antibiotic resistance and kills helpful gut bacteria, but may also leave us more vulnerable to viruses.

“This could be relevant not only in humans but also livestock animals, as many farms around the world use antibiotics prophylactically. Further research in these environments is urgently needed to see whether this makes them more susceptible to viral infections.”

On the impact of antibiotics on the lung, Dr Wack said: “We were surprised to discover that the cells lining the lung, rather than immune cells, were responsible for early flu resistance induced by microbiota.

“Previous studies have focused on immune cells, but we found that the lining cells are more important for the crucial early stages of infection. They are the only place that the virus can multiply, so they are the key battleground in the fight against flu. Gut bacteria send a signal that keeps the cells lining the lung prepared, preventing the virus from multiplying so quickly.”

Overall, Dr Wack said: “Taken together, our findings show that gut bacteria help to keep non-immune cells elsewhere in the body prepared for attack,

“They are better protected from flu because antiviral genes are already switched on when the virus arrives. So when the virus infects a prepared organism, it has almost lost before the battle starts.

“By contrast, without gut bacteria, the antiviral genes won’t come on until the immune response kicks in. This is sometimes too late as the virus has already multiplied many times, so a massive, damaging immune response is inevitable.”

As a result, it is for this reason that antibiotics should not be considered as a default treatment, but the last resort in the battle against a virus in order to delay the development antibiotic resistant infections.

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