Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Renowned virologist calls for twinning of HIV and HTLV tests

By Linda Straker

THE virologist who co-discovered HTLV-1 believes that Grenada and the entire CARICOM region should embark on an educational awareness programme about the disease and at the same time encourage persons to know not only their HIV status, but also their HTLV status.

World-renowned Virologist, Dr. Robert Gallo, who is widely known for his co-discovery of HIV and his development of the blood test, told journalists attending a health reporting workshop on Science and Epidemiology of Viruses that health-care professionals need to encourage persons who want to know their HIV status to also know about their HTLV status.

“HTLV is transmitted the same way that HIV is transmitted and it will be just right for those who are tested for HIV to also get tested for HTLV, because knowing one’s status with regards to any of these viruses is very important, not just for the person but for the public health system,” said Dr. Gallo, who also discovered the first known human retroviruses (HTLV-1 and HTLV-2) which are endemic to
regions in the Caribbean including Grenada.

The Human T-lymphotropic virus Type I (HTLV-1) is a human retrovirus that is known to cause a type of cancer, referred to as adult T-cell leukaemia and lymphoma, and a demyelinating disease called HTLV-1 Associated Myelopathy/Tropical Spastic Paraparesis.

Acknowledging that HTLV is a growing medical challenge, Health Minister Clarice Modeste told the journalists that in Grenada more persons are dying from HTLV than HIV, but yet it’s not receiving the same attention like HIV.

“I must acknowledge that HTLV has not received the same awareness drive and support like HIV, but it’s something that we will have to work on,” she promised.

A study conducted by the Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation – the research division at St. George’s University – revealed that of 4 003 samples tested, 157 were repeatedly positive for HTLV, yielding a prevalence of 3.9 per cent in the Grenadian population.

“Applying the results of blood screening records to the entire population of Grenada, it should be expected that approximately 3 728 Grenadians may be currently infected with HTLV,” said the findings of the study, which was conducted mainly among pregnant women.

Organised by the Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation in partnership with the Global Virus Network, the aim of the three-day workshop which concluded on Saturday was to take the complex subject of “science and epidemiology of viruses” and break it down to reporters, so they in turn can share the information with their audiences regardless of their age or educational background.

The participants represented media outlets in the USA, the region and Grenada.

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