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Hayward said flu viruses might merely act as triggers for heart attacks in cardiovascular patients.
"Influenza may be bringing forward an event that might have happened anyway," he said, adding there is evidence that when the virus peaks, so too do heart attacks.
Experts are unsure whether the study results apply to otherwise healthy people with no history of heart disease. But they say flu viruses could potentially trigger heart attacks in people with no apparent heart disease, if they have risk factors like high blood pressure or are overweight.
For heart patients, doctors said the evidence is clear.
"Flu has too often been off the radar screen," said Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a spokesman for the American Heart Association and professor of medicine at Yale University. "But flu is as important to think about as cholesterol or blood pressure."
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