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HTLV-1 Transmission
Aug 12, 1997

My daughter recently became engaged to a 20 year old man that has adult T cell leukemia/lymphoma. She is 17. I am concerned that he may transmit HTLV-1 to her. Is this a realistic concern? He says he is in remission but is still taking chemotherapy and has been for approximately one year. What precautions can be taken? If my daughter is to be tested for anti HTLV-1, would a blood bank be the place to have her tested? Your advice would be appreciated.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question. HTLV-I is transmitted (and prevented) the exact same way as HIV. For more information on how HTLV-I is transmitted, see the questions, "HIV test and HTLV-1," and "When should u test for HTLV."

If the man with HTLV-I has unprotected sex with your daughter, she would indeed be at risk for HTLV-I. Even if he is in remission for this form of leukemia, he is still infected with HTLV-I, and is still infectious to his sex and/or needle sharing partners. However, if they practice safer sex (including the correct use of condoms), her risk of infection would be very low. Everything that is discussed about prevention of HIV on this website, applies to HTLV-I as well. Steps that will prevent HIV transmission, will also prevent HTLV-I transmission.

Your daughter should NOT donate blood to be tested. This is because, if she was recently infected, it may not yet show up on the test, and she could needlessly put another person at risk. This is the exactly same advice I would give to anyone interested in HIV or Hepatitis testing. If she wants to be tested for HTLV-I infection, she could ask her doctor to do the test for her. However, she should be very careful about HTLV-I testing, since HTLV-I testing is often confused with HIV testing. This is because both viruses are transmitted the same way, and years ago, HIV used to be called HTLV-III. However, HIV (HTLV-III) and HTLV-I are totally different viruses, but physicians and laboratories commonly confuse these two viruses with one another. She therefore has to make sure that she gets tested for HTLV-I rather than HIV.

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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