WOMEN infected with a common virus could be four times more likely of heart disease, scientists say.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name of a very common group of viruses that most people won’t know they have as it doesn’t usually cause symptoms.
But some people may develop genital warts after catching the virus, of which there over 100 different types.
Some high risk strains of the common infection are known to cause cervical cancer.
A study published to the European Heart Journal claims that women infected by a high-risk strain of HPV have a four times higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD).
CVD is one of the main causes of death and disability in the UK.
According to the research team from the Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine in Seoul, Korea, this is the first study to show a link between HPV infections and heart disease.
Lead author Prof Seungho Ryu said: “Despite remarkable advances in controlling well-known risk factors for heart disease – such as smoking, high cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes – heart disease continues to be a major cause of death.
“Interestingly, these conventional risk factors don’t explain all heart disease cases; about 20 per cent occur in people who don’t have these issues.
“This highlights the need to investigate other changeable risk factors. Our research focuses on examining the impact of HPV, particularly in relation to cardiovascular mortality, as a potential risk factor for heart disease.”
It comes after NHS chiefs pleaded with parents to vaccinate their teens against HPV to help bring down cervical cancer rates.
The jab is offered to school children aged 12 to 13 and anyone under the age of 25 who weren’t vaccinated at school.
But figures show that HPV jab coverage dropped last year, with 16.8 per cent of girls and 21.4 per cent of boys not immunised by the end of school Year 10.
It’s important for people with high-risk HPV to be aware of the potential for both heart disease and cervical cancer risks”
Prof Hae Suk Cheong
The research assessed 163,250 young or middle-aged Korean women who had no heart at the start of the study.
Women were screened for 13 high-risk strains of HPV and received regular health checks over eight and half years.
Researchers combined data from the participants HPV test results with national data on deaths from cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke.
Though the women were young and healthy, the study team found that those with high-risk HPV were 3.74 times more likely to die of heart disease compared to women who didn’t have the common virus.
They were also 3.91 times more likely to have blocked arteries and 5.86 times more likely to pass away from a stroke.
Researchers also found that the risk of cardiovascular disease was higher still in women who had a high-risk HPV infection and were obese.
Author Prof Hae Suk Cheong said: “We know that inflammation plays a pivotal role in the development and progression of cardiovascular disease and viral infections are potential triggers of inflammation.
“HPV is known for its link to cervical cancer, but research is starting to show that this virus can also be found in the blood stream.
“It could be that the virus is creating inflammation in the blood vessels, contributing to blocked and damaged arteries and increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
He said the findings had implications for people with HPV.
“This study highlights the importance of comprehensive care for patients with high-risk HPV.
“Clinicians should monitor cardiovascular health in patients with high-risk HPV, particularly those with obesity or other risk factors.
“It’s important for people with high-risk HPV to be aware of the potential for both heart disease and cervical cancer risks.
“They should engage in regular health screenings and adopt a healthy lifestyle to mitigate their risk of cardiovascular disease.”
The study authors said more work is needed to find out whether men would be similarly affected by a high-risk HPV strain and to investigate whether the HPV vaccine could prevent deaths from heart disease.
Prof Ryu added: “If these findings are confirmed, they could have substantial implications for public health strategies.
“Increasing HPV vaccination rates may be an important strategy in reducing long-term cardiovascular risks.”
Commenting on the research, Prof James Lawson from the University of New South Australia, added: “These findings, when added to other evidence linking HPV and other viruses to higher cardiovascular disease mortality, make a strong case for accepting viruses as risk factors for adverse outcomes from atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.”in Sydney,
What is HPV?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name of a very common group of viruses.
They don’t cause any problems in most people, but some types can cause genital warts or cancer.
HPV doesn’t usually cause symptoms so most people don’t even realise they have it.
But sometimes the virus can cause painless growths or lumps around your vagina, penis or anus – these are called genital warts.
HPV can affect your mouth, throat and genital area.
It tends to be transmitted through sex and you don’t need to have penetrative sex to get it.
You can get it from:
- any skin-to-skin contact of the genital area
- vaginal, anal or oral sex
- sharing sex toys
Some types of the virus can cause abnormal changes in the cells that can sometimes turn into cancer.
Aside from head and neck cancer, high-risk HPV is also linked to:
HPV testing is part of cervical screening, which is offered to all women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 64 to identify and protect against cervical cancer.
Some sexual health clinics may offer anal screening to men with a higher risk of developing anal cancer, such as men who have sex with men.
You can’t fully protect yourself against HPV but condoms can go some way towards protecting you.
The HPV vaccine will safeguard you against most types of the virus, but not all.