Brazil is one of the countries with the largest number of people infected with the HTLV virus (human T cell lymphotropic virus) worldwide. Although discovered more than 30 years ago, it is still poorly understood by the general population and even by health professionals, which leads to the difficulty of diagnosis and, consequently, to a greater proliferation of the virus.
HTLV, however, requires considerable attention. The virus can cause serious diseases such as myelopathy (a neurodegenerative disease that causes weakness in the legs, causing walking difficulties, leading to paralysis in more severe cases) and leukemia (cancer that occurs in the formation of blood cells, making it difficult for the infection control agency).
In addition to these serious diseases, the virus can also cause other health problems, such as skin diseases, pain in the lower limbs (calves), lumbar (lower back), difficulty in defecation or urination. The symptoms that HTLV causes are progressive and are usually felt in the region below the navel line. The diseases associated with the virus usually appear after the age of 40, but may come earlier.
"Unfortunately, many people with HTLV do not know they are infected, and can transmit the virus to others. Since there is no treatment to eliminate the virus, it is necessary to contain the transmission of the infection, which can occur through unprotected sexual intercourse; by contact with contaminated blood through the sharing of needles and syringes; and from the infected mother to the baby, via breastfeeding, "explains Professor UFMG Medical School Denise Utsch.
It also clarifies that HTLV is not contracted by sharing nail clippers, for example, although this is one of the forms of transmission of other serious diseases, such as hepatitis.
According to the professor of the Department of Microbiology of the Institute of Biological Sciences of UFMG, Edel Stancioli, the HTLV virus is considered a neglected infection in the world.
"There is no financial contribution to the research and there is no coordinated public health response, ie there is no uniform treatment for HTLV patients. Many times the patient is screened, but the diagnosis is not closed because the affected areas can be varied. In addition, we have few Reference Centers for carrier treatment. Without investments, we are unable to advance in research and much information on HTLV is still unknown. And this is the reality that we need to change. In the near future, we hope to be able to develop therapeutic vaccines to treat people, "he says.
Tests and treatment
In 2008, the Government of Minas Gerais promulgated Law No. 17344, which makes it mandatory to perform serological tests for the diagnosis of HTLV virus infection and the treatment of the identified cases. In Brazil, testing for HTLV is mandatory in all blood banks to avoid contamination via blood transfusion.
Because there are high HTLV prevalence rates among family groups, it is important that if one person in the family carries the virus, all others will be tested to see if they also have the virus.
"Knowing the diagnosis is the first step so that the infected person can receive adequate medical assistance to control the symptoms and ensure a better quality of life," says Professor UFMG Medical School, Júlia Caporali.
The teacher also emphasizes the importance of changing the habit in sexual relations. "We should use condoms in all sexual relations. And when we keep fixed partners with whom we do not use condoms, we should do serological tests periodically, because we or we may not know that we have determined a virus, because of the immune window that varies from disease to disease. For casual partners, these measures are essential, "he warns.
In Belo Horizonte, there are two Reference Centers for the treatment of HTLV virus: the Center for Training and Reference in Infectious-Parasitic Diseases (CTR / DIP Orestes Diniz) and Eduardo de Menezes Hospital.
"CTR Orestes Diniz is a partnership of the City Hall of Belo Horizonte with Hospital das Clínicas. The HTLV laboratory operates once a week and receives referrals from the city hall, Hemominas and Hospital das Clínicas. The laboratory of the Eduardo de Menezes Hospital, of the Fhemig Network, also operates once a week and follows the flow of the Regulation, just like Orestes Diniz, "he concludes.