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Human T cell Lymphotropic Viral Infection(HTLV; HTLV-I; HTLV-II)

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Definition

Human T cell lymphotropic virus (HTLV) infects a type of white blood cell called a T-cell or T-lymphocyte. White blood cells help fight infection.

Causes

HTLV infection is caused by a specific virus.

Risk Factors

There are two types of HTLV: HTLV-I and HTLV-II.

Factors that increase your chances of getting HTLV-I include:

  • Living in an area where the virus is common, such as Southern Japan, Caribbean countries, parts of Africa and South America, the Middle East, and Melanesia
  • Being breastfed by an infected mother
  • Receiving a blood transfusion or transplant in the United States before 1988
  • Having unprotected sex with someone who is infected with the virus, who is an injection drug user, or who is from an area where the virus is common
  • Injection drug use

Factors that increase your chances of getting HTLV-II include:

  • Ethnicity: American Indian or African Pygmy
  • Being breastfed by an infected mother
  • Receiving a blood transfusion in the United States before 1988
  • Having unprotected sex with someone who is infected with the virus or who is an injection drug user
  • Injection drug use
Symptoms

More than 95% of people with HTLV do not have symptoms. However, having the virus puts you at higher risk of developing certain conditions.

  • If you are infected with the HTLV-I virus, it is possible that you may also develop
    • Adult T-cell leukemia (ATL). This disease involves cancer of a specific group of blood cells.
    • Opportunistic infections, including Strongyloides stercoralis hyperinfection
    • Inflammation of the eyes, joints, muscles, lungs, or skin (not common)

If you are infected with HTLV-I or HTLV-II, you may also develop a disorder of the nervous system known as HTLV associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraparesis (HAM/TSP). It can cause weakness, numbness and stiffness in the legs, and difficulty walking.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

HTLV infection can only be diagnosed with a specific blood test. The presence of HTLV antibodies is a sign of infection with the virus.

Treatment

There is no treatment that can remove the virus from the body. Treatment is aimed at managing HTLV-associated diseases and reducing their symptoms.

To prevent spreading HTLV to others:

  • Do not donate plasma, bone marrow, organs, semen, or breast milk.
  • Do not breastfeed your baby.
  • Avoid unprotected sex.
  • Avoid sharing needles or syringes.
Prevention

To help reduce your chance of getting the virus:

  • Avoid unprotected sex. If your partner has the virus discuss ways to prevent the spread of the virus with your doctor.
  • Avoid sharing needles or syringes.

RESOURCES:

Baylor College of Medicine
https://www.bcm.edu

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
http://www.niaid.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

Public Health Agency of Canada
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

References:

Blood Systems. HTLV-I/II information sheet. United Blood Services website. Available at: http://hospitals.unitedbloodservices.org/forms/BS_352.pdf. Accessed February 25, 2013.

General information—HTLV. Health Protection Agency website. Available at: http://www.hpa.org.uk/web/HPAweb&Page&HPAwebAutoListName/Page/1191942172148#who. Accessed February 25, 2013.

HTLV virus. Baylor College of Medicine website. Available at: http://www.bcm.edu/molvir/index.cfm?pmid=16506. Updated July 31, 2012. Accessed February 25, 2013.

Human T-Lymphotropic Virus (HTLV). New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services website. Available at: http://www.oasas.ny.gov/AdMed/FYI/HTLV-FYI.cfm. Accessed February 25, 2013.

Tropical spastic paraparesis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 9, 2010. Accessed February 25, 2013.

What is HTLV-II? The National Centre for Human Retrovirology website. Available at: http://www.htlv1.eu/htlv_two.html. Accessed February 25, 2013.



Last reviewed July 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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