Scientists from Ohio State University found that heart problems associated with the flu are not caused by raging inflammation in the lungs, as has long been predicted.
They found that the electrical malfunctions and heart scarring seen in some of the sickest flu patients are caused by direct influenza infection of cardiac cells.
The research is published in Science Advances and was conducted by Jacob Yount et al.
It has been established for some time that hospitalized flu patients can develop heart problems.
A 2020 study found that about 12% of adults in the U.S. hospitalized with the flu over eight years developed sudden, serious heart complications.
The team had found flu viral particles in heart cells of infected mice in previous work, but couldn’t say for sure their presence in the heart was driving cardiac damage.
In this study, the researchers altered the genome of an H1N1 flu strain so that the virus could not hijack heart cells to make copies of itself.
They found less heart muscle damage, lower biomarkers for cell injury, less scarring, or fibrosis, of heart tissue, and decreased electrical signaling problems in the hearts of mice that received the genetically altered virus.
The team says their method allowed them to distinguish between severe lung inflammation and the direct replication of the virus in the heart.
There is still a lot to learn. Influenza tends to focus most of its efforts on infiltrating the lungs but generally isn’t present in the blood or other organs.
But it does get to the heart—and finding out how this happens is part of continuing work in the future.
The team says these findings suggest clearing the viral infection could be key to reducing flu’s problematic effects on the heart.
This is another reason to get your flu shot because you don’t want your heart to get infected by the flu—and it is a possibility.
If you care about heart health, please read studies about new way to prevent heart attacks, strokes, and common nutrient that is good for your heart rate.
For more information about health, please see recent studies about how oral health may affect your heart, brain and risk of death, and results showing this could prevent 2 million heart disease cases.
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