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Lancet Infect Dis. 2019 Oct 21. pii: S1473-3099(19)30402-5. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(19)30402-5. [Epub ahead of print]

Association between HTLV-1 infection and adverse health outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiological studies.

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The Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales, Kensington, NSW, Australia; The George Institute for Global Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales Newtown, NSW, Australia. Electronic address:
The Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales, Kensington, NSW, Australia.
Institut Pasteur, Unité d'Epidémiologie et Physiopathologie des Virus Oncogènes, Département de Virologie, Paris, France; CNRS, UMR3569, Paris, France.
Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute Central Australia, Alice Springs, NT, Australia.



Human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) is a human retrovirus that causes a lifelong infection. Several diseases, including an aggressive form of leukaemia, have been designated as associated with HTLV-1, whereby having HTLV-1 is a necessary condition for diagnosis. Beyond these diseases, there is uncertainty about other health effects of HTLV-1. We aimed to synthesise evidence from epidemiological studies on associations between health outcomes and HTLV-1.


For this systematic review and meta-analysis, we searched Embase, MEDLINE, MEDLINE In-Process, and Global Health for publications from their inception to July, 2018. We included cohort, case-control, and controlled cross-sectional studies that compared mortality or morbidity between people with and without HTLV-1. We excluded studies of psychiatric conditions, of symptoms or clinical findings only, of people who had undergone blood transfusion or organ transplant, and of population groups defined by a behavioural characteristic putting them at increased risk of co-infection with another virus. We extracted the risk estimates (relative risks [RRs] or odds ratios [ORs]) that reflected the greatest degree of control for potential confounders. We did a random-effects meta-analysis for groups of effect estimates where case ascertainment methods, age groups, and confounders were similar, presenting pooled estimates with 95% CIs and prediction intervals.


Of the 3318 identified studies, 39 met the inclusion criteria, examining 42 clinical conditions between them. The adjusted risk of death due to any cause was higher in people with HTLV-1 when compared with HTLV-1-negative counterparts (RR 1·57, 95% CI 1·37-1·80). From meta-analysis, HTLV-1 was associated with increased odds of seborrheic dermatitis (OR 3·95, 95% CI 1·99-7·81), Sjogren's syndrome (3·25, 1·85-5·70), and, inversely, with lower relative risk of gastric cancer (RR 0·45, 0·28-0·71). There were a further 14 diseases with significant associations or substantially elevated risk with HTLV-1 from single studies (eczema [children]; bronchiectasis, bronchitis and bronchiolitis [analysed together]; asthma [males]; fibromyalgia; rheumatoid arthritis; arthritis; tuberculosis; kidney and bladder infections; dermatophytosis; community acquired pneumonia; strongyloides hyperinfection syndrome; liver cancer; lymphoma other than adult T-cell leukaemia-lymphoma; and cervical cancer).


There is a broad range of diseases studied in association with HTLV-1. However, the elevated risk for death among people with HTLV-1 is not explained by available studies of morbidity. Many of the diseases shown to be associated with HTLV-1 are not fatal, and those that are (eg, leukaemia) occur too rarely to account for the observed mortality effect. There are substantial research gaps in relation to HTLV-1 and cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and metabolic disease. The burden of disease associated with the virus might be broader than generally recognised.


Commonwealth Department of Health, Australia.

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