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Infections possible cause of arteriosclerosis in children


The fact that infections among adults can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes is now well established by several hundred scientific studies. Both heart attacks and strokes are expressions of arteriosclerosis (thickening of the arteries, previously termed hardening of the arteries). New research from the Section for Pediatric Cardiology in Lund indicates that infections can also contribute to the early development of arteriosclerosis even in childhood.

Doctor Petru Liuba shows in a newly submitted dissertation at Lund University that children who have been admitted to the hospital for severe urinary and respiratory infections developed thickening of the inner walls of the arteries after a period of illness. The study is the first in the world to show, with the help of ultrasound, that acute infections in children can be followed by such early signs of arteriosclerosis.

Thickening of the arteries is a disease that is connected to a number of factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol content in the blood, diabetes, inflammatory diseases like rheumatism, and a hereditary proneness to cardiovascular diseases. But these risk factors explain less than half of all cases, and infections are now being seen as a further partial explanation.

The infections involved are primarily those that incite so-called inflammatory response throughout the body, that is, fever and a general feeling of sickness. The inflammation in combination with the bacteria that cause the infection are seen as causing damage to vessel walls, damage that becomes aggravated and leads to obstructions if later infections occur. The hypothesis agrees with many tests on animals that have shown an increased risk of thickening of the arteries in animals with recurrent infections.

Many researchers around the world are now working to create a vaccine against some of the most common respiratory and stomach bacteria. These are bacteria like Chlamydia pneumoniae and Helicobacter pylori, which a great proportion of the population carries and which sometimes flare up in the form of palpable infections.

“Such a joint vaccine would be invaluable,” says Petru Liuba.

“But until it appears, health care units should treat general acute infections in every way possible. For example, children with severe infections should be given antibiotics. Our study shows that children treated with antibiotics develop less thickening of their vessels following an infection.”

However, Petru Liuba does not wish to arouse too much concern among parents of mildly infected children. Since many factors play a role in the emergence of the disease, there is no 100-percent correlation between infections and arteriosclerosis.

Ingela Björck | alfa
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