Current status of HTLV-1 infection
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It is 30 years since human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1) was identified as the first human retrovirus. To assess the implications of the virus for human health it is very important to know the past and present prevalence. Most of the estimates of HTLV-1 prevalence are based on serological screening of blood donors, pregnant women and other selected population groups. The widely cited estimate that the number of HTLV-1 carriers in Japan is 1.2 million was calculated from data that are now more than 25 years old. Here I summarize previous reports of prevalence studies in the world and Japan. Then, a recent analysis of seroprevalence of healthy blood donors in Japan will be described in comparison with that of 1988. A decrease in the number of HTLV-1 carriers in Japan was demonstrated, however, it is still more than one million. The number has increased in the metropolitan areas, probably reflecting the migration of Japanese population. I conclude that there is a paucity of general population data in countries where HTLV-1 is endemic, and re-evaluation of HTLV-1 infection is required to understand the virus burden on the human health.