Women infected with a sexually transmitted infection that affects 80 percent of people at any time in their lives are five times more likely to suffer a stroke, a new study suggests.
Researchers in South Korea evaluated more than 163,000 young and middle-aged women with no history of heart disease.
The team followed the participants, who were periodically screened for health problems, for up to 17 years.
They found that women who had been infected with human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection in women and known to cause cervical cancer, were dramatically more likely to develop fatal heart disease.
Those who had the infection at some point were almost four times more likely to have blocked arteries, 3.7 times more likely to die from heart disease, and almost six times more likely to have a stroke than women who had not contracted it. .
The team called for more regular screening and comprehensive care for women with HPV.
However, the virus can be difficult to detect as it comes and goes on its own, and patients are usually only treated when there are signs that it has caused cancer to develop.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in women, affecting up to 80 percent of people at some point in their lives.
The scientists also suggested that their findings paved the way for future research into whether the HPV vaccine can reduce deaths from heart disease, the leading cause of death in the US.
The researchers found that women who had been infected with HPV were almost four times more likely to have blocked arteries and 3.7 times more likely to die from heart disease.
“This is the first study to show an association between high-risk HPV infection and deaths from cardiovascular disease,” the researchers wrote.
Study author Dr Swungho Ryo of Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine said: “If these findings are confirmed, they could have substantial implications for public health strategies.”
“Increasing HPV vaccination rates may be an important strategy to reduce long-term cardiovascular risks.”
The researchers looked at 163,250 young and middle-aged women in South Korea. The average age of the participants was 40 years and the average body mass index (BMI) was 22, within a normal weight range.
None of the participants had a history of heart disease.
The women were screened for 13 strains of HPV and other chronic diseases, including cervical cancer, every one to two years for an average of eight and a half years. However, some participants were tested for 17 years.
They were also given questionnaires about their medical history, medication use, smoking, alcohol consumption, and amount of exercise.
The researchers compared the women’s health data and HPV test results with national data on deaths from heart disease and stroke.
They determined that the participants, all young, healthy women, had a 9.1 in 100,000 chance of dying from heart disease.
However, they found that women with HPV had a 3.91 times greater risk of developing blocked arteries, 3.74 times more likely to die from heart disease, and 5.86 times more likely to die from a stroke compared to women who were not infected with HPV at any point.
They also found that the risk was higher in obese women who were infected with HPV.
Researchers found that the risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, which occurs when arteries are blocked, is higher in obese women who have been infected with HPV.
However, the risk continues to increase for non-obese women.
The team is largely unsure why HPV raises these risks, although they theorized it could be because the infection causes inflammation in blood vessels.
Dr. Hae Suk Cheong, author of the study and professor at the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine, said: “We know that inflammation plays a critical role in the development and progression of diseases. cardiovascular diseases and that viral infections are possible triggers. of inflammation.’
“HPV is known for its association with cervical cancer, but research is beginning to show that this virus can also be found in the bloodstream.”
“It could be that the virus is creating inflammation in blood vessels, contributing to clogged and damaged arteries and increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
The team said the findings highlight the need to monitor heart health in patients who have had HPV, as well as an increased need for HPV vaccines.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) and primarily affects adolescents and young adults.
The CDC estimates that 13 million Americans are affected by HPV each year.
In nine out of 10 cases it disappears without causing problems. However, it has been linked to cancers of the throat, anus, penis, vagina and vulva.
It is also the most common risk factor for cervical cancer, the fourth most common form of cancer in women. However, cervical cancer cases are largely declining in the US.
Research published in 2023 by the American Cancer Society, for example, found that among women ages 20 to 24, cervical cancer rates decreased by 33 percent between 2005 and 2012 and by 65 percent between 2012. and 2019.
HPV has been linked to more than 90 percent of cervical cancer rates. However, only 63 percent of American teenagers have been vaccinated against it.
These women were also the first to receive the HPV vaccine when it was launched in 2006. The vaccine is given to girls and women between the ages of nine and 26 in the United States.
Rebecca Siegel, lead author of the study and senior scientific director of surveillance research at the ACS, said: “The large drop in cervical cancer incidence is extremely exciting because this is the first group of women to receive the cervical cancer vaccine. HPV, and probably portends strong reductions.” in other HPV-associated cancers.
The authors of the ACS study said these findings show that the HPV vaccine can “virtually eliminate cervical cancer” as it is more than 90 percent effective.
However, vaccination rates are low.
The ACS states that in 2020, only 32 percent of boys and girls ages 13 to 17 in Mississippi and 43 percent in West Virginia were up to date on their HPV vaccines.
An analysis of US Health RankingsBased on CDC data, it found that South Carolina, West Virginia, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Mississippi ranked lowest in terms of HPV vaccination.
Overall, 63 percent of American teens ages 13 to 17 are vaccinated against HPV.
The new study was published Tuesday in the European Heart Magazine.