Health: What is HTLV-1?
There is an ancient virus that Imperial College’s National Centre for Retrovirology is calling a “distant cousin” of the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV-1 and it is called HTLV-1 or Human T-lymphotropic virus type 1. Currently, HTLV-1 is wreaking havoc in Central Australia so much so that “doctors are now calling for greater efforts to stop the spread of infections,” CNN reports.
But what is HTLV-1 and what does it do, really?
According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (NLM NIH), the origins of HTLV-1 can be traced back to Andean mummies said to be 1,500 years old. It causes potentially fatal diseases like bronchiectasis, leukemia, lymphoma, and neurological disorders in addition to weakening our immune system. Other HTLV-1 related illnesses include “pulmonary diseases, certain cancers, eye inflammation, infective dermatitis, crusted scabies, and chronic low-grade immunosuppression.”
People can get infected with HTLV-1 through unprotected sex which is why it is considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI). HTLV-1 can also spread from mother to child through breastfeeding, sharing of syringes and needles with infected people, and blood transfusion.
HTLV-1 was discovered earlier than HIV but that the latter, according to Dr. Robert Gallo, “got the most attention partly because HIV is more efficient at transmitting.” Dr. Gallo, by the way, is the director and co-founder of the Institute of Human Virology (IHV) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and his discovery of HIV-1 is a landmark in the history of medicine. By chance, it was also Dr. Gallo’s laboratory that first detected HTLV-1 in 1979. Today, Dr. Gallo is prompting everyone to “make up for what we didn’t do before” and that, “we have to get attention to HTLV-1 quick.”
HTLV-1 is indeed a matter of utmost urgency. According to CNN, In Central Australia’s remote regions alone, the rate of infection among adults especially in the indigenous communities exceed 40%. Not to mention that today, there are approximately 20 million people infected with HTLV-1 and apart from Central Australia is “widespread in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Japan” but there remained no cure, no treatment, and even no preventive vaccines against the HTLV-1 virus.