Human T-lymphotropic virus 1 (HTLV-1) has infected human beings for thousands of years, but knowledge about the infection and its pathogenesis is only recently emerging. The virus can be transmitted from mother to child, through sexual contact, and through contaminated blood products. There are areas in Japan, sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, and South America where more than 1% of the general population is infected. Although the majority of HTLV-1 carriers remain asymptomatic, the virus is associated with severe diseases that can be subdivided into three categories: neoplastic diseases (adult T-cell leukaemia/lymphoma), inflammatory syndromes (HTLV-1-associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraparesis and uveitis among others), and opportunistic infections (including Strongyloides stercoralis hyperinfection and others). The understanding of the interaction between virus and host response has improved markedly, but there are still no clear surrogate markers for prognosis and there are few treatment options.