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More Questions about HTLV-I

Jan 22, 1999

QUESTION #1: As HTLV-1 tends to be a more progressive disease not exposing itself in the form of symptoms for possibly years...what indicators or conditions would exist for an individual to test early and is there any value for early recognition?

QUESTION #2: I have a p24 reactive band on a HTLV-I Western blot. Hiv ab is negative. Same single p24 shows up 9 months later. Is there other interferences of some kind that can cause this?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Thank you for your questions.

In response to the first question, there are several benefits to the early detection of HTLV-I. Those benefits include:

1) People who know that they have HTLV-I are less likely to transmit the infection to their sexual partners. When a person becomes aware that they have HTLV-I (or any other STD for that matter), they are more likely to practice safer sex with their partner(s), thus reducing the chances of transmission. They are also less likely to share needles with their needle-sharing partners (if any).

2) In women who know that they are infected, it is recommended that they do not breast feed their babies. The rate of mother-to-child transmission of HTLV-I is approximately 15-25%. If a woman does not breast feed her baby, the transmission rate is lower (ranging from 3.3-12.8%), indicating that breast feeding is a key factor in the transmission of HTLV-I from mother-to-child. Transmission can also occur during pregnancy and also during labor/delivery.

3) If a person knows that they have HTLV-I, they are more likely to seek medical attention sooner, if symptoms similar to those of HTLV-I arise (see HTLV-I Testing and Symptoms Timeline for information about HTLV-I related symptoms). At this time, there are no established treatments for HTLV-I in people who do not have any symptoms.

If you have been told that a sexual or needle-sharing partner of yours has tested positive for HTLV-I, or if a doctor tells you that your symptoms suggest that you may have this virus, then it is strongly recommended that you get tested. In most places, testing for this virus is not a part of a routine STD exam.

In response to the second question, if you have just one band on the Western Blot, this would be an indeterminate test result, meaning the test could not determine whether you are infected or not. Indeterminate test results occur only rarely. In the rare instances when an indeterminate test result occurs on more than one occasion, most often, the person is not infected with the virus. There are several things that can cause indeterminate HTLV-I test results including:

1) infection with HIV. 2) infection with the HTLV-II virus (a virus that is normally harmless). 3) infection with other retroviruses. 4) infection with malaria parasites. 5) having an autoimmune disease.

In your case, we can rule out HIV as the cause of your indeterminate test result, since you tested negative for HIV. If a person gets an indeterminate test result, but they have symptoms similar to those associated with HTLV-I, then special tests (like HTLV-I PCR tests) can be done to verify whether a person is infected or not. You will need to talk to your doctor to determine what may be causing your indeterminate test result. However, if you repeatedly test indeterminate for HTLV-I, it would be unlikely that you are infected.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

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