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When should u test for HTLV

Jul 16, 1997

My girlfriend had unprotected sex one time last year with one guy who lived in Southern Japan (Okinawa) until nine years ago. We want to stop using condoms and want to be as safe as possible. Do you think that she should be tested for HTLV-1 and HTLV-2? Why or why not? And what exactly are the risks in Japan, in the U.S. and internationally for HTLV? Is HTLV transmisted in the same ways that HIV are? Thank you...

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question. The Human T-Lymphotropic Virus Type I (HTLV-I) is a virus that causes a specific type of leukemia called Adult T-Cell Leukemia (ATL). It is also linked to other medical problems. This virus is found worldwide, but is most often found in Japan (especially the south-western part of the country), Central America, South America, northern Iran, and West & Central Africa. In Japan specifically, according to a recent study, the rate of HTLV-I infection varies from 0.1% of the population, to as high as 50%, depending on the region of Japan. The incidence of this virus in the United States is unknown, since this is not a reportable disease in the USA. The only routine screening for HTLV-I/II in the USA is in the blood supply. Because HTLV-I/II are transmitted the same way as HIV, persons at high risk for HTLV-I/II are excluded from donating blood, just as persons with HIV are excluded. We therefore would not expect to see many cases of HTLV-I/II detected in the USA. One study states that the number of people around the world infected with HTLV-I can be estimated as between 10 and 20 million.

HTLV-II is also found worldwide, particularly among intravenous drug users. I am not aware of any study estimating how many people in the world have this virus.

If your girlfriend had unprotected sex with this man from Japan, it may not be a bad idea for her to get tested for HTLV-I. Because this is a sexually transmitted disease, you should continue to use condoms with her, until testing shows she is not infected with this, and other, sexually transmitted diseases. For more information about HTLV-I/II, see the postings, "HIV test and HTLV-1," and "HTLV/balantis."

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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