Influenza and cardiovascular disease: is there a causal relationship?

Tex Heart Inst J. 2004;31(1):4-13.


There is mounting evidence in support of a significant role for influenza infection in the development of atherosclerosis and the triggering of its complications. Here we review the biologic basis of this relationship, with special emphasis on the pro-inflammatory and pro-thrombotic effects of influenza infection. We also discuss the related epidemiologic findings and discuss in detail the possible causal relationship between influenza and cardiovascular disease. We appraise the relationship between influenza and coronary heart disease, on the basis of Bradford Hill's criteria of causality. We show that our proposed relationship meets the following criteria: strength of association, consistency, temporal sequence, coherence, biologic plausibility, experimental evidence, and analogy. Further studies are needed to assess whether it meets the criterion of biologic gradient. Specificity is not met, but meeting that criterion is of least importance in the study of multifactorial chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease. These criteria do not yield indisputable evidence for or against cause-and-effect, but they can help researchers appraise available evidence and determine the areas that need further research. The case for expanding the research on the effect of influenza on cardiovascular disease is a strong one, for most of Hill's criteria are met.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Coagulation
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Causality
  • Coronary Artery Disease / etiology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / complications
  • Influenza Vaccines
  • Influenza, Human / complications*
  • Influenza, Human / epidemiology
  • Influenza, Human / prevention & control
  • Risk Factors


  • Influenza Vaccines