There are nearly 20 million people in the world who suffer from the human T-lymphotropic virus (HTLV-1), a very mysterious virus. Besides, there is currently no coordinated government response or treatment. As we speak, this mysterious virus continues to wipe out the Aboriginal populations in Australia.
In the early 80s, both HTLV-1 and HIV viruses were discovered simultaneously by a research team led by Robert Gallo, an American researcher, now the head of Human Virology at the University of Maryland. But, at the time, HIV was a global emergency that received special attention.
HTLV-1 was, on the contrary, considered asymptomatic as, according to the initial testings, only about 10% of the patients could develop fatal lung disease or leukemia during their lifetime.
The human T-lymphotropic virus can be transmitted sexually, by blood transfusion, or from mother to child. It can cause a devastating form of leukemia, with some individuals dying within weeks of diagnosis.
The mysterious virus, HTLV-1, affects large communities of native populations in Australia
“People affected by human T-lymphotropic virus don’t live in Sydney or Tokyo. They are people who live massively in Papua New Guinea, Congo, Peru. They are the poorest members of society,” said Dr. Lloyd Einsiedel, a specialist in infectious disease at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute at Alice Springs Hospital.
According to the scientists, more than 45% of the tested adults from five Aboriginal communities around the city of Alice Springs, in central Australia, are infected with the virus. A rate thousands of times higher than for non-indigenous Australians.
For each test, a patient has to pay about $170, a sum that is not reimbursed by Australia’s health insurance scheme (MBS). Also, there is only one laboratory in the country dedicated to the HTLV-1 diagnosis, thus, a single diagnosis can take up to six months to be concluded.
“You might ask, why isn’t there a vaccine against HTLV-1? I don’t know how hard it’s been tried but we need to stimulate government involvement, we need to emphasize the importance of the disease and its severity. We could do much better. We need to do much more with HTLV-1,” stated Rober Gallo, the discoverer of this mysterious virus, scientifically known as the human T-lymphotropic virus (HTLV-1).