Getting to the Heart of the Matter with Zika Infection

News & Research

By Damian McNamara / Special to UM News 

UM researchers are trying to answer whether there is a connection between Zika infection and heart-related issues.

Does Zika infection cause some people to develop heart-related complications? Researchers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine are looking to answer this question. They are recruiting people who have tested either negative or positive for Zika infection in the past six months to participate in a new trial.

Previous research shows mosquito-borne viruses that cause dengue and chikungunya infections raise the risk for cardiovascular complications. Because Zika comes from the same family of flaviviruses, the Florida Department of Health put out a call for medical researchers to investigate any similar risks from Zika infection.

Claudia A. Martinez, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Claudia A. Martinez, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

“We’re the only ones in South Florida investigating this. No one else is looking into the cardiovascular complications of Zika in a well organized, multi-disciplinary academic environment,” said Claudia Martinez, M.D., associate professor of clinical medicine.

At an initial visit and at one year, participants get a full cardiovascular evaluation that includes non-invasive imaging of the heart, arterial function testing and blood tests. The Zika Heart Study will include people 18 to 50 years old with no heart disease or evidence of dengue or chikungunya infection.

Researchers will be looking for inflammation of the heart and cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscles that others have found flavivirus infections. The one-year follow-up exam in the trial is important, Martinez said, because delayed cardiac complications can emerge from flaviviruses months after acute infection.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic reported that eight of nine people infected with Zika virus in Venezuela developed a cardiovascular complication, including arrhythmias and cardiomyopathy. This case series reported at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology strengthens the hypothesis for the study by Martinez and colleagues at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

The study “will give us an answer to clarify if Zika is a risk for cardiovascular disease or not. That information will help us determine if people infected with Zika virus will need cardiac evaluation,” Martinez said.

Appropriate candidates will be compensated for time and travel. To learn more about the trial or to refer a patient, call 305-298-4471.

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