An ancient cousin of the HIV virus that has been known about for at least four decades had been brushed aside, perhaps because it disproportionately impacted indigenous people in central Australia and was not thought to be a big risk of spreading to others. (As racist as that is.) In fact, many of the aboriginal community weren’t even aware they had been infected. They hadn’t been warned until recently, and now doctors are breaking the bad news…
Now, years later, this cousin has infected 40% of adults in an area of Australia’s Northern Territory, especially in a town called Alice Springs. Doctors are finally raising alarms at this point, calling for more research, as the virus has spread to other areas of the world and it’s not known for sure if it could mutate and become more easily transmissible.
The HTLV-1, the most lethal human-immune virus known, is capable of killing people within weeks—but it's not getting the public-health attention it deserves, @tanyabasu reports https://t.co/zXkazGbMrq
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) April 26, 2018
Dr. Robert Gallo, who first detected the virus in 1979, noted that almost nobody seems to have worked for a vaccine:
“There’s little to almost no vaccine efforts, outside of some Japanese research,” he said. “So prevention by vaccine is wide open for research.”
Gallo warns that the virus could spread further if it continues to be ignored.
It’s called the human T-cell leukemia virus, or HTLV-1, and is now known to have spread to areas of Japan, the Caribbean, South America, Africa, and the Middle East. 20 million people worldwide are thought to be infected, mostly affecting poor people, who have apparently been overlooked.
Epidemiological Aspects and World Distribution of #HTLV1 Infection.
Geographical distribution of HTLV-1 subtypes (A–G), and the main modes of viral dissemination by movements of infected populations.
From Gessain & Cassar.https://t.co/Tq95Axgkwi pic.twitter.com/GaOcvlID9U
— Ian M Mackay, PhD (@MackayIM) May 1, 2018
Experts haven’t been as concerned about the virus as HIV, in part because it doesn’t spread as easily as HIV, and it seems in part because of who the disease currently affects. That certainly sounds similar to the spread of HIV in America initially, until it was found that it had spread to people other than the LGBT community.
Like HIV, HTLV-1 is spread sexually, through contact with blood, and through transmission from mother to child when breastfeeding.
The disease was discovered four years before HIV, but symptoms can take decades to become chronic. Many people are unaware they are infected, but once symptoms emerge, they are lethal.
- Autoimmune disorders
- Spinal cord problems
- Vision issues
- Skin Lesions
- Kidney failure
The Guardian shared a comic by “First Dog on the Moon” to illustrate the problem.
“Some scientists posit that the silent spread of HTLV-1 could be a symptom of another widespread condition known as ‘most white people not giving a fuck.'”
HTLV-1: the forgotten virus you've never heard of | First Dog on the Moon https://t.co/6Uzk3XpOoI
— The Guardian (@guardian) May 2, 2018
The virus was found in the DNA of 1,500-year-old Andean mummies. Scientists think that studying the origins of the virus could also teach us about human prehistoric migration, as the virus may have been carried by ancient Mongoloids to the Andes region in South America.
See a report from Australia below:
Earlier this week, our report on #HTLV1 – the little-known blood borne virus endemic to Central Australia. Complex public health issue; surely would have heard of this earlier if non-Indigenous patients were infected? @ABCIndigenous pic.twitter.com/6QoNxpb2a6
— Bridget Brennan (@bridgeyb) April 26, 2018
See more about the grim symptoms from Dr Lloyd Einsiedel below:
Featured image: Andean Moche mummy (Perú) via Wikimedia Commons