Persistent pathogens linking socioeconomic position and cardiovascular disease in the US

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Abstract

Background

Numerous studies have documented a strong inverse association between cardiovascular disease and socioeconomic position (SEP). Several infections are associated with both cardiovascular disease and SEP; hence infection may form an important link between SEP and cardiovascular disease. This study examines whether seropositivity to cytomegalovirus (CMV), to herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1), and/or to both pathogens mediates the relationship between SEP and cardiovascular disease history in a nationally representative sample of the United States.

Methods

We conducted a cross-sectional study of subjects ≥45 years of age, who were tested for seropositivity to CMV, HSV-1 or both pathogens and assessed for cardiovascular disease history in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III. Cardiovascular disease history was defined as history of stroke, heart attack and/or congestive heart failure and SEP as education level.

Results

SEP was associated with CMV, HSV-1 and seropositivity to both pathogens. CMV seropositivity was associated with cardiovascular disease history even after adjusting for confounders as well as SEP. The odds of reporting a history of cardiovascular disease for those with less than a high school education compared with those with more than a high school education decreased by 7.7% after adjusting for CMV (Sobel mediation test for CMV, P=0.0006). In contrast, neither seropositivity to HSV-1 nor to both pathogens was associated with cardiovascular disease history after adjusting for SEP.

Conclusions

Persistent pathogens such as CMV infection may explain a portion of the relationship between SEP and cardiovascular disease in the United States. Further studies examining additional pathogens and sociobiological mechanisms are warranted.

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