Human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-I) is the first human retrovirus to be associated with malignant disease--namely, adult T-cell leukaemia/lymphoma. HTLV-I has also been associated with several non-malignant conditions, notably the chronic neurodegenerative disorder, HTLV-I associated myelopathy (also known as tropical spastic paraparesis), infective dermatitis of children and uveitis. More recent evidence points to disease associations not previously linked to HTLV-I. Thus, the disease spectrum of HTLV-I is not fully known. HTLV-I has a worldwide distribution with major endemic foci in the Caribbean and southern Japan. The public health importance is confirmed by the major routes of transmission, which are mother-to-child, blood transfusion, and sexual activity. Unfortunately, no vaccine is available yet and there is no proven treatment for advanced HTLV-I disease.