• Human T cell Lymphotropic Viral Infection



    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.


    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


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


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

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


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

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


    Blood Systems. HTLV-I/II information sheet. United Blood Services website. Available at: http://hospitals.unitedbloodservices.org/forms/BS%5F352.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%5Ftwo.html. Accessed February 25, 2013.

    Revision Information

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.