Common Cytomegalovirus
May Be Key Factor In Heart Attacks

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.