Cardiac complications of influenza infection, such as myocarditis, are well recognised, but the role of influenza as a trigger of acute myocardial infarction is less clear. We did a systematic review of the evidence that influenza (including influenza-like illness and acute respiratory infection) triggers acute myocardial infarction or cardiovascular death. We examined the effectiveness of influenza vaccines at protecting against cardiac events and did a meta-analysis of data from randomised controlled trials. 42 publications describing 39 studies were identified. Many observational studies in different settings with a range of methods reported consistent associations between influenza and acute myocardial infarction. There was weaker evidence of an association with cardiovascular death. Two small randomised trials assessed the protection provided by influenza vaccine against cardiac events in people with existing cardiovascular disease. Whereas one trial found that influenza vaccination gave significant protection against cardiovascular death, the other trial was inconclusive. A pooled estimate from a random-effects model suggests a protective, though non-significant, effect (relative risk 0.51, 95% CI 0.15-1.76). We believe influenza vaccination should be encouraged wherever indicated, especially in people with existing cardiovascular disease, among whom there is often suboptimum vaccine uptake. Further evidence is needed on the effectiveness of influenza vaccines to reduce the risk of cardiac events in people without established vascular disease.