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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 00:04 GMT
Aspirin 'could tackle viruses'
Aspirin
Aspirin: Does it have another benefit?
Laboratory tests suggest that anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin may be able to block the spread of harmful viruses.

Aspirin has already had a significant impact on patients suffering from heart disease - it is estimated it could save thousands of lives in the UK every year.

Now a team of researchers from New Jersey Medical School in the US say they have found more evidence that the drug can block the reproduction of cytomegalovirus (CMV).

A large number of people carry the virus and it lies dormant in most - attacking only when the immune system is weakened, by, for example, HIV or anti-rejection transplant drugs.

Foetuses infected with the virus in the womb, because of their undeveloped immune systems, can suffer permanent disability.

The US researchers suggest that body chemicals which cause inflammation in the tissues are actually vital to the replication of the virus.

Reducing inflammation, with a drug such as aspirin, cuts off the supply of these chemicals, called prostaglandins.

Treating virus-infected human skin tissue with this type of drug in the laboratory "significantly reduced" virus production, they reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dual approach

They suggest it could be given both to patients suffering from active CMV disease, perhaps in tandem with traditional antiviral drugs, or even to those infected and thought to be at risk of developing full-blown illness.

There is strong evidence that heart transplant patients infected with CMV are more likely to suffer atherosclerosis - hardened arteries - than those without the virus.

It is suspected that latent CMV may contribute to this cause of heart disease in everyday, non-transplant, patients.

Further testing may reveal whether the "aspirin effect" on coronary heart disease patients is due in part to beneficial effects on patients with undetected CMV, as well as the more obvious effect of making blood cells less likely to stick together and block narrowed arteries.

Professor Paul Griffiths, a researcher in CMV from the Royal Free and University College Medical School in north London, told BBC News Online that more research on the virus was needed.

'Side-effects'

He said: "CMV is an important and under researched pathogen - which often does not signal its presence in humans.

"However, in some patients it can have consequences which are quite severe, such as graft rejection and perhaps even atherosclerosis."

He said, however, that there was insufficient evidence of benefit to suggest that anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin should be used by patients routinely - just in case CMV was present, as all drugs carry side-effects.

A spokesman for the Public Health Laboratory Service said, "The outcome of any viral infection is a balance between the properties of the virus and of the host.

"Options for treatment are therefore modification of the virus or modification of the host metabolic response.

"This paper concentrates on the host metabolic response and may prove useful in identifying new avenues of treatment of human CMV."

See also:

11 Jan 02 | Health
Aspirin 'could save thousands'
13 Nov 01 | Health
Heart drugs could save thousands
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