June 13, 2024

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HPV linked to heart disease in women for first time

3 min read

Human papillomavirus (HPV) has been linked to heart disease in women for the first time amid a national vaccine drive.

Women with high-risk strains of HPV could be four times more likely to die of heart issues and six times more likely to suffer a stroke, a new study has suggested.

Experts found a link between the 13 different types of HPV, which are already known to cause 99.7 per cent of cervical cancers, and cardiovascular disease.

The researchers said it could be that the virus is causing inflammation in the blood vessels and contributing to blocked and damaged arteries when travelling through the bloodstream.

HPV are a group of viruses which can be transmitted through sexual contact and cause no symptoms.

Vaccination against the viruses can protect women from developing cervical cancer but uptake of the jabs, which are offered to schoolchildren, has fallen since the pandemic.

‘Virus can be found in bloodstream’

To examine if the virus is a potential risk factor for heart problems, researchers gave 163,250 Korean women with no cardiovascular disease a number of health checks.

The average age of the women studied was 40 and they returned for health checks every year or two for up to 17 years.

On average, 9.1 per 100,000 women died during the study.

But those with high-risk HPV were 3.91 times more likely to have blocked arteries and 3.7 times more likely to die of heart disease. There was also a 5.9 times greater risk of dying from a stroke.

The risk was also greater in obese women with high-risk HPV, researchers said.

The study was led by professors Seungho Ryu, Yoosoo Chang and Hae Suk Cheong from the Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine in Seoul, South Korea.

Prof 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 bloodstream. 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.”

Risk also greater for obese women

He added that the study published in the European Heart Journal “highlights the importance of comprehensive care for patients with high-risk HPV”.

Prof Cheong added: “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.”

In the absence of “specific antiviral drugs targeting HPV” and the “limited pharmaceutical interventions for inflammation” associated with the virus, researchers said more analysis “is warranted to explore potential vaccine strategies” aimed at reducing high-risk HPV, along with the “potential use of anti-inflammatory drugs” for HPV associated with cardiovascular disease.

A vaccine for HPV has been offered to all girls in year eight in the UK since 2008 and was rolled out to include year eight boys in 2019.

The success of the jab, along with the cervical screening programme, is expected to lead to the eradication of cervical cancer in England in the coming decades.

In November, Amanda Pritchard, the NHS England chief, vowed the disease would be eliminated by 2040.


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