Aug. 13 (UPI) -- A herpes virus similar to the one that causes cold sores has been linked to immune cells that can damage cardiovascular tissue, according to a study.
Researchers at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School in England found that a relevant number of a specific type of immune cells arise when infection with cytomegalovirus is present. Their findings were published this month in the journal Theranostics.
The virus, which is frequently associated with the salivary glands, has been considered harmless because the immune system usually controls it.
But the CD28null CD4 T-cells have been known to be involved in damaging the arteries around the heart.
Cytomegalovirus infection increases the risk of cardiovascular death by over 20 percent, according to a study published last year in the Journal of the American Heart Association, but the effect wasn't identified.
One theory was they were a natural consequence of aging.
"While we had previously been aware of a link between these immune cells and cardiovascular damage, this study is the first to show that sufficient numbers to be damaging only occur in the presence of this infection," lead author Dr. Alejandra Pera, a researcher at BSMS, said in a press release.
They found that certain tissue types, which are determined genetically, make individuals more susceptible to large numbers of these cells.
With this discovery researchers believe heart disease can be control by treating the virus.
"Our work suggests that Cytomegalovirus infection is an important clinical factor to be considered in coronary heart disease and advanced atherosclerosis, and raises the possibility that treatment of the virus may be effective in the management or even prevention of coronary heart disease in a tangible proportion of patients," Dr. Florian Kern, immunology leader at BSMS. "Tissue type might help identify those individuals most at risk."