Infectious Burden: A New Risk Factor and Treatment Target for Atherosclerosis

  • Elkind M
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Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory process, and several common bacterial and viral infections have been hypothesized to contribute to the inflammation of the vascular wall that leads to atherosclerosis. More recently, investigators have found preliminary evidence that the aggregate burden of these chronic infections, rather than any single organism, may contribute to atherosclerosis and risk of clinical vascular events, including ischemic stroke. This aggregate burden of infections, which has been variably labeled "infectious burden" or "pathogen burden," may be associated with stroke through mechanisms independent of atherosclerosis, as well, including platelet aggregation and endothelial dysfunction. Host factors, moreover, may interact with infectious burden to modify the risk of disease associated with these infections. Currently there is no commonly accepted group of organisms or method of assessing infectious burden, and not all studies confirm an association of infection and stroke risk. Nonetheless, if infectious burden does play a role in atherosclerosis or stroke, it is plausible that preventive anti-infective treatment, such as vaccination, or antibiotics, would reduce the risk of incident or recurrent stroke. While influenza vaccination has been recommended to prevent recurrence among those with coronary disease, similar recommendations for stroke patients have not yet been made. Large scale randomized clinical trials of macrolide antibiotics for coronary patients, moreover, have been negative. Further studies are needed, however, to determine whether an association between infectious burden and stroke exists, and whether infectious burden may be a target for intervention

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  • M.S. Elkind

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