- DENVER (Reuters) - A virus that infects more than half of all Americans
may be a factor contributing to hardening of the arteries, the most common
cause of heart disease, a U.S. research report released Thursday said.
Preliminary research on animals linked cytomegalovirus (CMV) with atherosclerosis
and suggested that the process begins early in childhood, said Dr. Archana
Chatterjee of Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. ``In most cases
CMV is a benign disease that causes a mild rash or flu-like symptoms that
disappear quickly. Most people don't even know they've been infected,''
she said. Research scheduled to be presented Thursday at the annual meeting
of the Infectious Diseases Society of America suggests the dormant CMV
infection may play a role along with better-known risk factors in hardening
of the arteries, said Chatterjee. In related animal research she and her
colleagues are working to develop a vaccine to prevent transmission of
CMV from mothers to their fetuses during pregnancy.
If a relationship between CMV and atherosclerosis in the general population
is confirmed, it may be worthwhile to vaccinate everybody against CMV,
Chatterjee said. In the preliminary research young guinea pigs who were
fed a high fat diet and infected with CMV developed within four to six
weeks pre-atherosclerotic lesions -- blood vessel abnormalities that are
early signs of hardening of the arteries, Chatterjee reported. But evidence
of hardening of the arteries did not show up until one year in a CMV-negative
group fed a high fat diet. A third group not exposed to CMV and fed a normal
diet showed no signs of atherosclerosis at six months. The theory is that
a CMV infection of the blood vessel wall causes inflammation of the lining
of the blood vessels. This process in turn causes blood cells to adhere
to and penetrate the vessel wall and form pre-atherosclerotic lesions,
leading eventually to clogged arteries.