Open Access Highly Accessed Research

HTLV-1 in pregnant women from the Southern Bahia, Brazil: a neglected condition despite the high prevalence

Marco Antônio Gomes Mello12, Aline Ferreira da Conceição3, Sandra Mara Bispo Sousa4, Luiz Carlos Alcântara5, Lauro Juliano Marin3, Mônica Regina da Silva Raiol3, Ney Boa-Sorte6, Lucas Pereira Souza Santos3, Maria da Conceição Chagas de Almeida7, Tâmara Coutinho Galvão3, Raquel Gois Bastos3, Noilson Lázaro16, Bernardo Galvão-Castro16 and Sandra Rocha Gadelha3*

Author Affiliations

1 LASP/CPqGM/FIOCRUZ, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

2 Faculdade de Ilhéus, Ilhéus, Bahia, Brazil

3 Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, Rodovia Ilhéus-Itabuna Km 16–Salobrinho, Ilhéus, Bahia, Brazil

4 Universidade Estadual do Sudoeste da Bahia, Vitória da Conquista, Bahia, Brazil

5 LHGB/CPqGM/FIOCRUZ, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

6 Escola Bahiana de Medicina e Saúde Pública, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

7 LEMB/CPqGM/FIOCRUZ, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

For all author emails, please log on.

Virology Journal 2014, 11:28  doi:10.1186/1743-422X-11-28

Published: 13 February 2014



As the most frequent pathway of vertical transmission of HTLV-1 is breast-feeding, and considering the higher prevalence in women, it is very important to perform screening examinations for anti-HTLV-1 antibodies as part of routine prenatal care. So far, no studies of HTLV-1 seroprevalence in pregnant women in the Southern region of Bahia, Brazil, have been described.


Pregnant women were selected at the two regional reference centers for health care from Southern Bahia. A total of 2766 pregnant women attending the antenatal unit between November 2008 and May 2010 have been analyzed. An extra blood sample was drawn during their routine antenatal testing. A standardized questionnaire was applied and all positive plasma samples were tested by ELISA and were confirmed by Western Blot and PCR. Besides that, positive women were contacted and visited. The family members that were present during the visit were asked to be serologically screened to the virus. A prospective study was also carried out and newborns were followed up to two years for evaluation of vertical transmission.


HTLV prevalence was 1.05% (CI 95%: 0.70-1.50). There was no association of HTLV-1 infection with age, education, income and ethnic differences. The association with marital status was borderline (OR = 7.99; 95% CI 1.07-59.3; p = 0.042). In addition, 43 family members of the HTLV-1 seropositive women have been analyzed and specific reactivity was observed in 32.56%, including two children from previous pregnancy.

Conclusion: It is very important to emphasize that the lack of HTLV-1 screening in pregnant women can promote HTLV transmission especially in endemic areas. HTLV screening in this vulnerable population and the promotion of bottle-feeding for children of seropositive mothers could be important cost-effective methods to limit the vertical transmission. Besides that, our data reinforce the need to establish strategies of active surveillance in household and family contacts as important epidemiological surveillance actions for the early detection of virus infection and the prevention of transmission by sexual or and parenteral contact.

HTLV; Bahia-Brazil; Vertical transmission; Pregnant; Prenatal care