A virus which infects white cells called T-lymphocytes. Like HIV, the HTLV virus remains in the body once an individual is infected, even though antibodies develop. Most people who are infected with the virus are perfectly well and never have any illness. Occasionally, it can cause a neurological disorder called Tropical Spastic Paraparesis (or HTLV Associated Myelopathy) or a blood disease called Adult T-cell Leukaemia. These diseases are very rare.
The infection is found most commonly in people from Japan, the West Indies and parts of the Middle East. The virus is commonly transmitted from mother to child by breast feeding, but is also passed on by sexual contact or by intravenous drug use. We screen for antibodies against HTLV, and if the test is reactive further tests are performed to confirm the result.