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High-Risk Strains of HPV Could Raise Women's Odds for Heart Death
  • Posted February 7, 2024

High-Risk Strains of HPV Could Raise Women's Odds for Heart Death

Women are four times more likely to die from heart disease and six times more likely to die from stroke if infected with a high-risk strain of human papillomavirus (HPV), a new study warns.

HPV already is known to cause most cervical cancers, and previous research has suggested that HPV infection might contribute to clogged arteries.

But this is the first study to draw a link between high-risk HPV infections and deaths from heart disease, researchers say.

“This study highlights the importance of comprehensive care for patients with high-risk HPV,” said researcher Hae Suk Cheong, with the Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine in Seoul, Korea.

“Clinicians should monitor cardiovascular health in patients with high-risk HPV, particularly those with obesity or other risk factors,” Cheong added.

HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get the virus at some point in their lives, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than nine out of every 10 cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV. The three HPV vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration protect against the high-risk strains that lead to cervical cancer.

For this new study, researchers tracked more than 163,000 young or middle-aged Korean women with no history of heart disease at the start of the study.

Women received check-ups every year or two, over an average more than eight years, including screening for 13 high-risk strains of HPV.

Overall, the women's risk of dying from heart disease was low, with about nine deaths for every 100,000 people, researchers said.

However, women with high-risk HPV had a 3.9 greater risk of blocked arteries, a 3.7 times greater risk of dying from heart disease, and a 5.9 times greater risk of dying from a stroke, compared to those with no such infection.

The risk was higher still in women who were obese and had a high-risk HPV infection, researchers added.

The new study was published Feb. 6 in the European Heart Journal.

 “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,” Cheong said in a journal news release. “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.”

“We know that inflammation plays a pivotal role in the development and progression of cardiovascular disease, and viral infections are potential triggers of inflammation,” Cheong added.

About 20% of heart disease cases are not caused by well-known risk factors like smoking, elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, researchers said. This finding could explain part of that difference.

More research is needed to find out whether HPV infection has similar effects on men, as well as whether the vaccine can prevent deaths from heart disease, the study authors said.

In an accompanying editorial, James Lawson of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, said the evidence linking heart disease and viral infection “has become compelling enough to add to the already strong case for vaccination against influenza virus, SARS-CoV-2 and HPV.”

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about HPV vaccination.

SOURCE: European Heart Journal, news release, Feb. 7, 2024

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