Drug users, Native Americans susceptible to infectious diseases

A virus found primarily in injection drug users and a small number of Native Americans may increase the incidence of infectious diseases, according to a multi-center, longitudinal study headed by the University of California, San Francisco.

New findings show that people infected with human T-lymphotropic virus type II (HTLV-II) have a greater risk of acquiring bronchitis, bladder and kidney infections, oral herpes, and pneumonia. The study appears in the July 12 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

HTLV-II is a retrovirus that infects white blood cells. It is closely related to HTLV-I, a retrovirus responsible for causing leukemia and a progressive spinal cord disorder called myelopathy. Whereas HTLV-I is found primarily in Japan, Africa, and the Caribbean, HTLV-II occurs primarily in Amerindian tribes in South and Central America where incidence rates can reach 30 percent.

In the United States, approximately 200,000 people are infected with HTLV-II. Injection drug users account for the vast majority of cases; roughly 10 to 20 percent of users have the virus. Approximately one to two percent of Native Americans are also infected.

"HTLV-II has been epidemic among injection drug users in the United States for over twenty years," said Edward Murphy, MD, MPH, UCSF associate professor of laboratory medicine, medicine, and epidemiology/biostatistics. "Our study is the first step towards understanding the consequences of its infection." Murphy is the principal investigator of the study.

Study participants were recruited between November, 1990 and February, 1993 from five major blood donation centers across the United States and six smaller blood banks in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The study cohort was made up of 1,213 individuals, including 136 people with HTLV-I, 337 people with HTLV-II, and 740 people with neither infection who were used as controls. Interviews and physical exams were routinely conducted for two years to assess

Contact: Rebecca Sladek Nowlis
University of California - San Francisco

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