Human T cell lymphotropic virus (HTLV) infects a type of white blood cell called a T-cell or T-lymphocyte. White blood cells are a type of cell that helps fight infection. HTLV is a type of retrovirus that can cause cancer. It is different than the retrovirus that causes AIDS.
HTLV infection is caused by a specific virus.
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There are 2 types of HTLV: HTLV-I and HTLV-II.
Factors that may increase the chances of getting HTLV-I:
People of American Indian or African Pygmy descent are at greater risk for HTLV-II.
Factors may that increase the chances of getting HTLV-II:
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 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.
You will be asked 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.
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:
To help reduce the chances of HTLV infection:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
The Canadian Hematology Society
Human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T921515/Human-T-cell-lymphotropic-virus-type-1-HTLV-1. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Human T-lymphotropic virus (HTLV). New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services website. Available at: https://www.oasas.ny.gov/AdMed/FYI/HTLV-FYI.cfm. Accessed January 29, 2021.
What is HTLV-II? The National Centre for Human Retrovirology website. Available at: http://www.htlv1.eu/htlv_two.html. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP Last Updated: 1/29/2021