Human T-lymphotropic virus 1 and 2 (HTLV-1/2) belong to the delta group of retroviruses which may cause a life-long infection in humans, HTLV-1 leading to adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma and other diseases. Different transmission modes have been described, such as breastfeeding, and, as for other blood-borne pathogens, unsafe sexual activity, intravenous drug usage, and blood transfusion and transplantation. The present systematic review was conducted to identify all peer-reviewed studies concerning the work-related infection by HTLV-1/2. A literature search was conducted from January to May 2021, according to the PRISMA methodology, selecting 29 studies: seven related to health care workers (HCWs), five to non-HCWs, and 17 to sex workers (SWs). The findings showed no clear evidence as to the possibility of HTLV-1/2 occupational transmission in HCWs, according to the limited number and quality of the papers. Moreover, non-HCWs showed a higher prevalence in jobs consistent with a lower socioeconomic status or that could represent a familial cluster, and an increased risk of zoonotic transmission from STLV-1-infected non-human primates has been observed in African hunters. Finally, a general increase of HTLV-1 infection was observed in SWs, whereas only one paper described an increased prevalence for HTLV-2, supporting the urgent need for prevention and control measures, including screening, diagnosis, and treatment of HTLV-1/2, to be offered routinely as part of a comprehensive approach to decrease the impact of sexually transmitted diseases in SWs.
Keywords: HTLV infection; STLV-1 zoonotic transmission; blood borne pathogens; health care workers; occupational risk; sex workers.