Heart disease was the leading cause of death in the country in 2022, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) show. It is common knowledge now that an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, smoking, and excessive alcohol intake can damage the heart and lead to heart disease. A less well-known fact is certain bacteria, viruses, and (less commonly) fungi can cause infections that can damage or inflame the heart.
The parts of the heart most often damaged by infection include the heart muscle (myocardium), valves, inner lining (endocardium), and outer membrane or sac (pericardium). There are three main types of infection that can affect the heart: bacterial endocarditis (an infection of the lining of the heart valves), myocarditis (an inflammation of the heart muscle), and pericarditis (an inflammation of the pericardium).
While rare for most people, heart infections are more common for those who are older than 65 and have had heart surgery, among others. Individuals with a history of the following are also at higher risk for a heart infection: long-term catheter use; heart attack; an implanted heart device, heart valve disease or heart valve surgery; dental health problems; radiation therapy; a suppressed immune system; and injectable drug use.
Common symptoms of heart infection include chest pain; fatigue; fever; fluid buildup (edema) in the legs, ankles, feet or abdomen; joint pain or body aches; night sweats; rapid heartbeat or pounding heartbeat (heart palpitations); and shortness of breath. Individuals who experience any of these symptoms should immediately consult a doctor.
Among the ways one can lower an individual’s risk for heart infection are avoiding contact with people with viral infections; getting recommended vaccines, including for COVID-19 (initial doses and boosters) and the flu (annual shots are recommended); not engaging in substance abuse; reducing exposure to tick-infested areas and bird droppings; scheduling regular dental care; taking prescribed antibiotics before medical and dental procedures, especially if one has had heart valve repair and unrepaired congenital heart disease; and washing hands regularly.
It is important to reiterate that individuals with heart conditions are at increased risk of developing severe COVID-19. Moreover, people with heart disease and those who have had a stroke are at risk of developing serious complications from flu. Studies have shown that for people with heart disease, influenza is associated with an increase in heart attacks and stroke. As such, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommends that people with heart conditions be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu. Another jab that the CDC recommends people with heart disease get is the pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against pneumococcal diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis, and bloodstream infections. Pneumococcal pneumonia is a serious complication that can cause death.
Immunization across the life course is a cost-effective way to improve health, support health system sustainability, and promote economic advancement. The life-course approach to immunization recognizes the role of immunization as a strategy to prevent disease and maximize health over one’s entire life, regardless of an individual’s age. A life-course approach requires that immunization schedules and access to vaccination respond to an individual’s stage in life, their lifestyle, and specific vulnerabilities/risks to infectious diseases that they may face.
In 2010, the global health community declared a “Decade of Vaccines” and experts developed the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Vaccine Action Plan 2011–2020 (GVAP), that includes a focus on establishing a life-course approach to immunization. The WHO is continuing to develop and invest in the importance of a life-course approach to health by establishing a “Universal Health Coverage and the Life Course” division and highlighting the benefits of a life-course approach in its 13th General Program of Work for 2019-2023.
While vaccines are highly effective in disease prevention, the average global immunization uptake is still far from WHO target rates, especially amongst the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) member countries, reported the paper published by EU-ASEAN Business Council, Western Pacific Pharmaceutical Forum, Sanofi, and KPMG. In highlighting the value of immunization and urging more countries to ramp up their nationwide immunization efforts, the WHO endorsed an immunization agenda for 2030 (IA2030) with the view of a “world where everyone, everywhere, at every age, fully benefits from vaccines to improve health and well-being.” It is an agenda fully aligned with the country’s direction to promote heathy settings through preventive, primary care.
Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). PHAP represents the biopharmaceutical medicines and vaccines industry in the country. Its members are in the forefront of research and development efforts for COVID-19 and other diseases that affect Filipinos.