Simian virus 40 and mesothelioma in Great Britain

Malcolm Price, AJ Darnton, Damien McElvenny, John Hodgson

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    Background Simian virus 40 (SV40) is a DNA virus that has been shown capable of infecting and transforming cells in various species. Laboratory studies have suggested that inoculation with SV40 is associated with various types of cancer, including mesothelioma.

    Aims To test the hypothesis, via an ecological analysis, that exposure to SV40 via contaminated polio vaccines is a risk factor for mesothelioma in humans.

    Methods Mesothelioma mortality rates in Great Britain for two birth cohorts likely to have been exposed to SV40 via poliovirus vaccination were compared with a birth cohort likely to be largely unexposed.

    Results There was some evidence for both males (P < 0.05) and females (P < 0.05) that the mesothelioma mortality rates were higher in the first exposed cohort: rate ratio (RR) = 2.4 [95% CI (confidence interval) 1.2-5.0] and RR = 3.7 (95% CI 1.0-14). However, in the second exposed cohort, mortality rates were elevated in females only, and the evidence was slightly less convincing (P = 0.055).

    Conclusion Although the results for females show a reduction in the mesothelioma mortality rate coinciding with the introduction of the SV40-free Sabin polio vaccine, the absence of a similar result in males and of a priori biological evidence of a sex-specific SV40 effect, makes chance the most plausible interpretation of these findings.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)564
    Number of pages568
    JournalOccupational Medicine
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - 2007


    • Great Britain
    • mesothelioma
    • polio vaccine
    • simian virus 40
    • SV40


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