How are infectious agents tested for?
Usually through a blood test. If you have been infected with these bacteria or viruses, your body will make antibodies against them. Antibodies are your immune system's customized weaponry for fighting infections – each antibody is made to fight a specific kind of infection. After your body has fought off the infection, the antibodies often stay in your blood so that the infection can be recognized and attacked if it reappears. Doctors can tell if you are infected or have been infected in the past with any viruses or bacteria by testing your blood for the specific antibodies.
The 3 types of bacteria and viruses suspected of having a role in heart disease are not routinely tested for to determine heart disease risk. You would only be tested for them if you presented symptoms of the ailments that they commonly cause.
- H. pylori: Diagnosing infection with H. pylori involves taking a blood sample, stool sample, a tissue biopsy of the stomach lining, or a breath test (depending on your healthcare provider's orders). You may be tested if you have a peptic ulcer (a sore in the lining of the stomach or small intestine).
- C. pneumoniae: A blood test may be given if you have symptoms of bronchitis, sinusitis, or pneumonia.
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV): A CMV test might be ordered if you are a young adult, a pregnant female, or an immune-compromised patient and have flu- or mononucleosis-type symptoms such as fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and fever.
Can I prevent myself from being infected?
These bacteria and viruses are very common so there is little you can do to protect yourself. Most people will be infected at some point in their lives. There is not yet enough evidence to support taking antibiotics as a preventive measure against heart disease. Currently, there are two large trials underway to better understand if treating these infections can reduce a person's risk of heart disease.
How are these infections treated?
In many cases you won't receive any treatment because you will not even notice that you are infected with these bacteria and viruses. They often have no obvious symptoms. C. pneumoniae and H. pylori can be successfully treated with antibiotics, usually a 7 to 14 day course. But even after treatment, these bacteria are so common that it's possible you'll be infected again. Because CMV is a virus, it requires an antiviral drug called ganciclovir. While it can't cure the infection, ganciclovir can keep the virus in its inactive state.
There is no evidence to show that treating these infections can reduce a person's risk of heart disease.