The human T-cell lymphotropic viruses (retroviruses), HTLV-I and HTLV-II, are uncommon in the general U.S. population. They appear to be most prevalent among IV drug users and persons who have multiple sex partners, genital ulcers, or a history of syphilis. The virus can be transmitted by blood or intimate sexual contact, and can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy and through breast milk.
Most infected persons remain healthy carriers of the virus. In rare cases, however, HTLV-I can cause adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATL), a rare and aggressive cancer of the blood. Infected persons also may develop myelopathy, a neurologic disorder that affects the muscles in the legs. In addition, researchers think that HTLV-I plays a role in the development of B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia. HTLV-II can cause another rare cancer called hairy-cell leukemia. Because the chances of curing ATL rely on early detection, scientists are studying protein in the blood of HTLV-I-infected persons that may help predict who will develop the disease.
Blood donations are screened routinely for HTLV-I. Because lab tests cannot easily distinguish between HTLV-I and HTLV-II, experts believe many cases of HTLV-II are eliminated from the blood supply as well.
Source: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
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