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The severity of the diseases that HTLV can cause is inversely proportional to investment in research into a virus that has not yet had a cure or treatment
Lymphotropic virus of the human T cell lymphocyte. The compound name is simplified by the acronym: HTLV, an HIV family virus that can cause leg paralysis and leukemia in up to 5% of infected patients.
The severity of the diseases that it can cause, however, is inversely proportional to the investment in research in the field of virus treatment. Discovered in 1980, little is known about it. There is also no cure.
In the absence of patient perspectives, scientists and researchers are trying to point out the problem by creating World HTLV Day, celebrated for the first time this Saturday (10).
"Although it was discovered against HIV, [para o HTLV] little progress in these nearly forty years. We have managed to make progress in the fight against HIV, but HTLV is stagnating and no country has been able to develop an anti-retroviral drug to fight it, "says Júlia Fonseca de Morais, an infectious disease specialist who coordinates the HTLV extension project at UFMG. Federal Minas Gerais).
HTLV comes from the retrovirus family, which means that it establishes binding to our cells. In other words: apart from accommodation in our body, it sticks to the ribbon of our DNA, which makes it difficult to fight. The virus has two versions, HTLV I and HTLV II, the first to be responsible for the disease.
The transmission follows the same pathways of the AIDS virus, the most important of which is sexual intercourse without protection. HTLV can also be spread by dividing the syringes and vertical transmission when the mother transmits the virus to the baby during pregnancy. The risk of infection increases with breastfeeding.
"The genetic difference is small, but there is a big clinical difference between these two types of viruses, but so far no type II HTLV has been proven to have any disease," explains Morais. "When it comes to transmission, when we identified a pregnant woman with a virus, we indicated that she is not breastfeeding a newborn because of the high probability of infection."
HIV cousin and low risk
The history of the virus is similar to the discovery by AIDS scientists in the 1980s. However, HTLV was revealed shortly before its "cousin", the HIV virus. It was first observed in Japan in 1977, and three years later it was isolated by scholars. The AIDS virus was even called HTLV III before a thorough screening test.
But drugs used to treat HIV do not affect HTLV. In short, there is no cure, and all therapies used in patients are palliative. However, the risk for the virus carriers is low, because 95% of the carriers have no associated symptoms or diseases.
"Most people who have a virus are born and die without knowing what they have." Those who know how to find out when to give blood or donate organs, but who does not have no knowledge, "explains the infecologist.
And why are few patients formed? Morais says emphatically: "We do not know, so we need more research and more funds to better understand the virus, not only because of the low percentage, but also the development of anti-viral drugs."
"The most carcinogenic virus"
HTLV is associated with several diseases, ranging from degenerative to hematological (associated with the hematopoietic system, tissues and organs responsible for the proliferation, maturation and destruction of blood cells). The most serious are leukemia and myelopathy associated with HTLV – a neurodegenerative disease that can gradually paralyze leg movement.
In the case of leukemia or cancer in the blood, triggering is associated with the specific feature of the virus. "HTLV is the most carcinogenic virus, it has genes that weaken the control that cells exert on our genetics, so the cell is more likely to become cancer and will repeat itself without any regulation," explains infectologist Júlia Fonseca de Morais.
I am already related to myelopathy, the question is more complex and still scarcely dismembered by researchers. The movements of our body happen thanks to the connection of our brain with the spinal cord, which serves as a "channel" for body control. Doctors believe that HTLV can trigger a spinal cord infection and that our body's response may be responsible for leg paralysis.
"We know today that this infection is brutally combated by the immune system, but not quite why this fight can cause myelopathy. The main hypothesis is that this fight is so strong that it ends up destroying the spinal cord tissue, and this ends with the generation of paralysis in the legs, but this is only a hypothesis, due to the lack of this information, we can not carry out effective treatment, "argues Morais.
Currently, only a few countries maintain repeated studies of the HTLV virus, most of which are financed or co-operated with a private initiative. The point is that there has been a significant increase in sexually transmitted diseases, and HTLV follows this line. Therefore, the importance of huge investments in research in relation to the virus before the problem develops in public health and, consequently, SUS (Sistema Único de Saúde).