BACKGROUND: More people die in the winter from cardiac disease, and there are competing hypotheses to explain this. The authors conducted a study in 48 US cities to determine how much of the seasonal pattern in cardiac deaths could be explained by influenza epidemics, whether that allowed a more parsimonious control for season than traditional spline models, and whether such control changed the short term association with temperature. METHODS: The authors obtained counts of daily cardiac deaths and of emergency hospital admissions of the elderly for influenza during 1992-2000. Quasi-Poisson regression models were conducted estimating the association between daily cardiac mortality, and temperature. RESULTS: Controlling for influenza admissions provided a more parsimonious model with better Generalized Cross-Validation, lower residual serial correlation, and better captured Winter peaks. The temperature-response function was not greatly affected by adjusting for influenza. The pooled estimated increase in risk for a temperature decrease from 0 to 5degreesC was 1.6% (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.1-2.1%). Influenza accounted for 2.3% of cardiac deaths over this period. CONCLUSIONS: The results suggest that including epidemic data explained most of the irregular seasonal pattern (about 18% of the total seasonal variation), allowing more parsimonious models than when adjusting for seasonality only with smooth functions of time. The effect of cold temperature is not confounded by epidemics.