HPV infection linked to increased risk of heart disease

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A common infection may increase the risk of heart disease, research suggests.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is spread through close physical contact, including sexual activity, and 80% of people will get it at some point.

Around 30 strains of HPV can affect the genitals, of which around 13 are considered “high risk” because they can lead to cervical cancer.

Researchers have now found these high-risk strains may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by 22%.

A study published in the journal Circulation Research, from the American Heart Association, examined data for 63,411 Korean women aged 30 or over who did not have heart disease at the start of the study.

Just over 7% of the women, who were studied from 2011 to 2016, had high-risk HPV infections.

The researchers found those women with these strains were 22% more likely to suffer cardiovascular disease when factors such as smoking, exercise levels and obesity were accounted for.

Deeper analysis found women with HPV who were obese or suffering from metabolic syndrome – a cluster of conditions such as high blood pressure, excess weight around the waist and high cholesterol – had an even higher risk.

Those who were obese were two-thirds more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, and those with metabolic syndrome were nearly twice as likely to develop it, the researchers found.

Dr Seungho Ryu, co-author of the study and professor at Kangbuk Samsung Hospital in Seoul, South Korea, said: “Further studies are required to identify specific high-risk HPV genotypes that may contribute to cardiovascular disease and to examine whether vaccine strategies to reduce high-risk HPV infection for cancer prevention may also help reduce cardiovascular disease.”

In England, girls aged 12 to 13 are routinely offered a vaccine on the NHS to protect against HPV.

Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “The research shows that HPV infection in younger Korean women is associated with a slightly higher risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly in those who are obese.

“This raises the possibility that HPV infection directly leads to increased cardiovascular risk through an unknown mechanism, but the results from an HPV vaccination trial would be needed to prove it.”

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