Sexual transmission of human T-lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-I)

Ann Intern Med. 1989 Oct 1;111(7):555-60. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-111-7-555.


Study objective: To study the seroprevalence of human T-lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-I) in a sexually active population and to determine sexual behavior risk factors for infection.

Design: Cross-sectional seroprevalence study using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and Western blot. Risk-factor data were gathered by administered questionnaire and chart review.

Setting: Two urban, primary care clinics for persons with sexually transmitted diseases run by the Jamaican Ministry of Health.

Patients: Of the 2050 consecutive patients presenting with new episodes of sexually transmitted disease, 1977 patients were eligible for analysis.

Measurements and results: Overall HTLV-I seroprevalence was 5.7%; prevalence increased with age from 1.6% (age, 14 to 19 years) to 5.1% (age, 30 years and older) in men and from 5.3% (age, 14 to 19 years) to 14.1% (age, 30 years and older) in women. Compared with a reference cohort of food service employees, age-adjusted HTLV-I seroprevalence was increased in female patients with sexually transmitted disease (odds ratio = 1.83; CI, 1.41 to 2.83) but not in male patients with sexually transmitted disease. Independent risk factors for HTLV-I infection in women included having had more than ten lifetime sexual partners (odds ratio = 3.52, CI, 1.28 to 9.69) and a current diagnosis of syphilis (odds ratio = 2.12; CI, 1.12 to 3.99). In men, a history of penile sores or ulcers (odds ratio = 2.13; CI, 1.05 to 4.33) and a current diagnosis of syphilis (odds ratio = 3.56; CI, 1.24 to 10.22) were independent risk factors for HTLV-I infection. Of 1977 patients, 5 (0.3%) had antibodies to human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), including 2 with HTLV-I and HIV-1 coinfection.

Conclusions: We conclude that HTLV-I is transmitted from infected men to women during sexual intercourse. Our data are consistent with the lower efficiency of female-to-male sexual transmission of HTLV-I, but penile ulcers or concurrent syphilis may increase a man's risk of infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Female
  • HIV Seropositivity / epidemiology
  • HIV-1
  • HTLV-I Infections / epidemiology
  • HTLV-I Infections / transmission*
  • Humans
  • Jamaica
  • Male
  • Penile Diseases / complications
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Factors
  • Serologic Tests
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Viral / epidemiology*
  • Syphilis / complications