HPV Linked to Increased Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke in Women

By Emily Murray

While HPV (human papillomavirus) is the most common sexually transmitted infection and a frequent subject of discussion, it appears we still have much to learn about the virus and it’s potential impact on the body. A new study has shed some light on a link many of us might not have expected.

We have known for some time that the virus has been linked to an increased risk for cervical cancer and recently HPV has also been tied to throat cancer. But the latest health condition that HPV has been linked to however may be a bit surprising. According to new research, there is a correlation between HPV and heart attack and stroke in women.

The Study
The study consisted of 2,450 women ranging in age from 20 to 59 who volunteered to be part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey which took place from 2003 to 2006. In the study, the women were tested for HPV. The results showed that 44.6% tested positive for any strain of HPV and 23.2% tested positive for a riskier strain of HPV (one that is more commonly linked to cancer). In other words, of the total women 1,141 of the 2,450  had HPV. When asked their heart health history, 60 women from the study had suffered a heart attack or stroke and of these women, 39 had HPV.

Now it may seem odd that researchers knew to delve deeper into HPV cases see its affects on heart health, but when you look at it as a whole the virus is known to function in the body in a way that makes a gene which prevents tumors go inactive. This same gene has also been related to the hardening of the artery walls and it is through this relationship that researchers thought perhaps HPV could have something to do with the various incidences of heart attack and stroke in women who seemingly have no risk factors.

Getting the Facts on HPV
While understandably no one would choose to have HPV if there was an option, it’s important to realize that there are many women who have a strain of HPV at some point in their lives and actually heal it themselves with no negative health consequences. It is estimated that half of all sexually active men and women will become infected at some point.  While it seems those who do suffer health consequences are women, men are able to carry and pass the virus along as well.

Until recently, a federal committee recommended that only girls ranging in age 11 to 26 should be vaccinated against HPV. This of course raised concerns with mothers and other family members who felt that they would in a way be saying it was okay for their daughter to become sexually active by getting her vaccinated. Since this recommendation was made in 2006, it seems that the HPV vaccine has now become fairly routine and many of the fears of what it means for sexual activity have subsided as doctor’s have continued to explain that this has more to do with preventing cancer than sending a message about sex.

Now, however, the same panel recommends that boys become vaccinated at age 11 also.

Will this cause another wave of panic? Only time will tell.