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Human T cell lymphotropic viruses (HTLV) are retroviruses transmitted through breastfeeding, sexual contact, blood transfusion and injecting drug use. HTLV is endemic in the Caribbean, and parts of Africa, Japan and South America, with isolated foci in other areas. Infection is life long. Fewer than 5% of those infected progress to one of the HTLV-related diseases, but these are debilitating and often fatal. In England and Wales, laboratory and clinical reports of new HTLV diagnoses are routinely collected, including infections identified by the blood service since the introduction of anti-HTLV testing in August 2002. Between 2002 and 2004, 273 individuals were diagnosed with HTLV: 102 (37%) were male and 169 female (sex was not reported for two). Median ages at diagnosis were 54 and 50 years respectively. Clinical reports were received for 78% (212/273) individuals. Where reported, 58% (116/199) of individuals were of black Caribbean ethnicity and 29% (57/199) white; 87% (128/147) were probably infected heterosexually or through mother-to-child transmission; 45% (66/146) were probably infected in the Caribbean and 40% (59/146) in the United Kingdom. An appreciable number of HTLV infections continue to be diagnosed within England and Wales, with increases in 2002-2003 because of anti-HTLV testing of blood donations. While most infections diagnosed are directly associated with the Caribbean, transmission of HTLV infection is occurring within England and Wales. Specialist care services for HTLV-infected individuals and their families have improved in recent years, but prevention remains limited.


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