• HAM = HTLV-I-associated myelopathy; PTLV(s) = primate T-cell lymphoma;
  • leukemia virus(es); REDS = Retrovirus Epidemiology Donors Study; STLV = simian T-lymphotropic viruses; TSP = tropical spastic paraparesis; WB(s) = Western blot(s)

BACKGROUND: Recent identification of divergent simian or primate T-lymphotropic viruses (STLVs; PTLVs) in bonobos (formerly called pygmy chimpanzees; Pan paniscus; viruses: STLVpan-p and STLVpp1664) and a baboon (Papio hamadryas; viruses: STLVph969 or PTLV-L) have raised the possibility of human infection with these viruses. Divergent PTLV-infected primate sera show p24 bands on HTLV-I Western blots (WBs). It was investigated whether infection by divergent PTLV-like viruses could explain a subset of United States blood donors who reacted on HTLV-I EIAs and had indeterminate HTLV-I WBs with p24 bands.

STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: Epidemiologic characteristics of 1889 donors with HTLV-I-indeterminate WBs were compared to those of donors with confirmed retrovirus infections (393 with HIV, 201 with HTLV-I, 513 with HTLV-II) and 1.6 million donors with nonreactive screening tests. To directly probe for infection with divergent PTLVs, 2 HTLV-I-indeterminate donors born in Africa and 269 representative non-African-born donors with p24 bands on HTLV-I WBs (previously shown to be negative for HTLV-I and -II DNA by PCR) were selected for PTLV PCR analysis. DNA from peripheral blood MNC samples was tested for a proviral tax sequence by PCR using generic primers that amplify HTLV-I, HTLV-II, and the divergent PTLVs. Amplified tax sequences were detected by Southern blot hybridization to a 32P-labeled generic PTLV probe. PCR-positive samples could then be typed by hybridization with virus-specific internal probes that differentiate HTLV-I, HTLV-II, PTLV-L, and STLVpan-p.

RESULTS: In the epidemiologic analysis, HTLV-indeterminate status was independently associated with age of at least 25 years (OR = 2.19; 95% CI, 1.93-2.49), black (OR = 3.27; 95% CI, 2.90-3.67) or Hispanic (OR = 1.82; 95% CI, 1.52-2.16) race or ethnicity, and donation at one blood center (Baltimore) (OR = 1.30; 95% CI, 1.11-1.53). None of the 271 HTLV-I WB-indeterminate samples tested positive by generic PTLV PCR analysis.

CONCLUSION: Although the epidemiologic data suggest the possibility of undiagnosed HTLV-I, HTLV-II, or a cross-reactive virus such as PTLV among older, black, and Hispanic blood donors, the PCR data do not support the presence of divergent PTLV infection among US blood donors with HTLV-I-indeterminate results.¤