Common virus linked to heart disease

Could some heart disease be started off by infection? Are viruses and bacteria responsible for the first step on the way to developing particular cardiac problems? According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, more and more of the world’s top cardiac researchers are saying "yes".

The latest evidence comes with the news that Toronto scientists have discovered how a virus carried by 70% of the Canadian population can go on to cause heart disease. New research sponsored by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario has found how Coxsackievirus B3 (CVB3) penetrates the immune system and the heart.

The good news is that the research team scientists have found a potential way of stopping it dead in its tracks. "At this time there is no effective protection from Coxsackievirus and no effective treatment, so this is an important step forward," says Dr. Peter Liu, co-discoverer of the CVB3 trigger.

Dr. Liu, Head of the Heart & Stroke/Richard Lewar Centre of Excellence at the University of Toronto, investigated CVB3 with Dr. Josef Penninger, a renowned immunologist at the University of Toronto, as part of a joint Canada/US effort. The research tms have published their findings in the current issue of Nature Medicine.

CVB3 is part of a family of viruses that live in the human digestive track and are highly contagious. The most common result of CVB3 infection is flu-like symptoms, but is has also been linked to chronic dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition that frequently requires a heart transplant and that can lead to heart failure and sudden death.

Not everybody who carries CVB3 will go on to develop heart disease, but the presence of the virus is a major risk factor. It has been detected in the hearts of 30-50% of patients with chronic dilated cardiomyopathy.

"Now that the mechanism of infection has been identified the way is open to develop vaccines that will deny access to the virus," says Dr. Liu.