Every year five million Americans are admitted to hospital with an infectious disease. Over a third of these are for lower respiratory tract infections. This accounts for the largest proportion in both men and women.
As for the rest of these encounters with microbes, men are more likely to find themselves confined to a hospital bed for infections of the abdomen, bone, and rectum. For women, it’s the gastro-intestinal and urinary tracts, kidney and bladder.
All this distress is disturbing enough. But there’s a more serious angle than a few days of discomfort and a round of antibiotics. Alarming new research has found that people hospitalized for infectious disease have a dramatically increased risk of heart attack, stroke and death in the years ahead.
It sounds odd, but it’s true. Here’s what’s going on. . .
Three Times Greater Risk of Death From Heart Attacks
Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Aston Medical School in the UK analyzed the records of 1.2 million patients admitted to hospital for infectious disease over a period of 14 years.
To make it more manageable, they narrowed their search to 34,027 people diagnosed with either respiratory or urinary tract infections.
Then they matched these patients by age and sex against a control group without infections.
It turned out that during the following eight years, those admitted with these infections had a 40% greater likelihood of having a heart attack, and their chances of dying from it trebled. They were also 2½ times more likely to have a stroke and twice as likely to die from it compared to the controls.
This was the case even though the researchers took into account many factors known to raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Cardiologist Dr. Rahul Potluri of Aston University, said, “Infection appears to confer as much, if not more of a risk for future heart disease and stroke, as very well-established risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
“Although inflammation has been linked to atherosclerosis [plaque buildup in the arteries], this is the largest study to show that common infection is such a significant risk factor.”
His Cambridge colleague and lead author Dr. Paul Carter added, “The data illustrate a clear association between infections and life-threatening heart conditions and strokes – and the figures are too huge to ignore.”
This study follows another published in January in the New England Journal of Medicine which found a six-fold risk of a heart attack in the week following a diagnosis of influenza. There was also an increased risk following other respiratory viruses.
It’s Important to Avoid Infections
Clearly, the best approach is to avoid getting a serious infection in the first place. While these can never be totally prevented, there are a number of lifestyle strategies you can employ to maintain robust immunity and greatly lower the risk.
Harvard Medical School suggest that “following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system strong and healthy.” They recommend that you:
- Wash hands frequently and cook meats thoroughly
- Take regular exercise
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Drink in moderation
- Get adequate sleep
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Minimize stress
In addition to these sensible steps, you could go further by taking supplements that support the immune system. Some of the best are vitamins C and D, zinc, magnesium and selenium, glutathione, beta glucan, elderberry, and olive leaf extract.