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Microscopic menace may infect arteries

Scientists are finding more and more evidence that a bacterial infection could cause heart disease. This would explain the cycle of heart disease occurrences from 1940 to 1970. Scientists say the rise and fall in numbers is strangely similar to that of an infectious epidemic.

Researchers are investigating the theory that Chlamydia pneumoniae, bacteria that cause sinusitis, bronchitis, and pneumonia, may also damage arterial walls. This damage eventually leads to a buildup of cholesterol or an increase in blood clots, both risk factors for heart disease.

Scientists took notice of this theory when they were studying a group of people suffering from atherosclerosis. They found that more than 73 percent had C. pneumoniae in the arteries of their hearts. Only 4 percent of the group without atherosclerosis had evidence of the bacteria.

Now, researchers studying Alaska Natives have found that C. pneumoniae were present in plaques found in the arteries of 60 people who died in accidents. The interesting news for researchers was that the bacteria were also present in blood samples of 56 of those 60 people up to 26 years before their deaths.

Before a substance can be established as a cause of a disease, it has to be proven to be present before the disease is diagnosed. This new study supports the theory that the presence of C. pneumoniae in clogged arteries is more than a coincidence -- which could lead to new ways to prevent and treat heart and artery disease.

     
     

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