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article imagePneumonia-causing bacteria can pose heart risks

By Tim Sandle     Sep 20, 2014 in Health
Austin - According to a new study, older adults who are hospitalized for pneumonia are at a higher risk for heart problems. This is because Streptococcus pneumonia bacteria may infiltrate the heart, causing microlesions that can lead to cardiac complications.
This conclusion was reached after scientists studied the hearts of pneumonia-infected mice and rhesus macaques monkeys, as well as human autopsy samples. The finding suggests that the bacterium S. pneumonia — a major cause of pneumonia — could affect heart tissue directly.
This conclusion tallies with medical evidence that indicates around 20 percent of patients who contract pneumonia go onto experience complications such as congestive heart failure or cardiac arrhythmia. These heart conditions have been implicated in more than a quarter of pneumonia-related deaths.
Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung affecting primarily the microscopic air sacs known as alveoli. There are several viruses and bacteria that can cause pneumonia. The most common bacterial type is caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae. S. pneumoniae is part of the normal upper respiratory tract flora. However, it can become pathogenic under the right conditions, such as when the immune system is suppressed.
In conversation with The Scientist, study coauthor Carlos Orihuela is quoted as saying: "It’s amazing that no one has ever done this before . . . it blows my mind. We decided to simply cut out the hearts of mice that had severe disease and look in the tissue for damage,” he said. “And when we did that, lo and behold, there were these microlesions . . . filled with bacteria.
"This is the first report in over 120 years of research with Streptococcus pneumoniae to say that the bacteria actually invade heart tissue."
The study was undertaken by researchers based at University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The findings have been published in the journal PLOS Pathogens. The paper is titled "Streptococcus pneumoniae Translocates into the Myocardium and Forms Unique Microlesions That Disrupt Cardiac Function."
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