HTLV (human T-lymphotropic virus) can be discovered through a blood test when specific rare diseases are present that affect the white blood cells that are a foundational component of the human immune response. This virus affects the t-cells and when present, is often an underlying cause of lymphoma, leukemia, or other nervous system disorders.
Medical providers typically test for two common types of this virus: HTLV1 and HTLV2. Up to 20 million people are believed to be currently infected with this virus. Populations that are closer to the equator tend to have higher infection rates of HTLV1 and this includes the southwestern US. HTLV2 tends to be seen in native populations in North America and in patients who frequently use IV drugs.
HTLV infections can be passed from mother to child. It is also considered a sexually transmitted disease. Organ transplants and blood transfusions also transfer this virus, though this happens very rarely because of HTLV blood tests being so common.
When To Speak To a Doctor About the HTLV Blood Test
Early infections of HTLV typically have no symptoms at all. A person can receive the infection and not experience any bothersome symptoms for several years or decades. Some people may have HTLV1 or HTLV2 and never experience an adverse health issue. This is because the virus tends to become inactive once an infection occurs.
HTLV1 is associated with certain forms of rheumatoid arthritis, infectious dermatitis, and a rare condition that is called HAM-TSP which causes lower limb muscle pain, spasms, and incontinence. A slow moving white blood cell cancer called ATL is also caused by this virus and may cause fever, fatigue, or enlarged lymph nodes.
HTLV2 is not necessarily considered to be as serious as HTLV1 because it is less clearly linked to the above medical conditions. Certain nerve health issues, lung disorders, and dermatitis issues, however, have been linked to this form of the virus.
In high infection rate areas, people who have multiple sexual partners should consider having themselves tested for both versions of HTLV. It may not be part of the standard STD panels, so specifically request this blood test from a medical provider.
What Do the HTLV Blood Test Results Mean?
Because HTLV is a virus, both versions that are widely tested for will produce antibodies that are detected on the blood test. This means if the antibodies are present, an infection has occurred. This virus creates a chronic infection, even if it becomes inactive, so once the antibodies are created, a person will always test positive.
If the initial HTLV blood test comes back as being positive, then a second confirmation test will be ordered. Any positive HTLV test generally indicates that a person has been infected by this virus. This is especially true if confirmation tests also come back as positive. If there are the signs and symptoms of an associated disease, then HTLV will be considered the underlying cause of the issue.
If the initial HTLV blood test comes back as being positive, but the confirmation test comes back as negative, then this may create a false positive result. Further testing will typically be required in several weeks to determine if more antibodies against the virus have been created. If the confirmation testing is still negative after the follow-up period, then this is generally treated as it being unlikely an infection has occurred.
A negative HTLV initial test means it is unlikely the individual has been infected by this virus.
Here’s What You Need To Know
Because HTLV never goes away, a person with a confirmed diagnosis of this virus can never donate blood. Most people who are infected with HTLV1 or HTLV2 never become sick, so ongoing testing is not recommended for the general population. The most common reason for this test is to screen blood that has been donated to make sure the virus does not spread.
Limiting the risk factors for HTLV transmission also lessens the chances of become infected. Use safe sex practices, never share needles, and mothers who are infected should not breastfeed their children.
HTLV is not HIV even though HIV was initially called HTLV3. There are two additional HTLV viruses that have been identified, but testing is not done on HTLV3 or HTLV4 as of yet.
The HTLV blood test can provide patients and doctors with needed information about the status of an individual’s overall health. If you have the risk factors for an HTLV infection and are experiencing the signs or symptoms of a serious disease linked to this virus, then speak to your doctor today about the advantages of having this test done.