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OBJECTIVE: To compare the prevalence of antibody to and proviral DNA of the retrovirus HTLV-I in relatives of 11 British patients with tropical spastic paraparesis who had migrated from Jamaica before they developed symptoms, and to examine factors possibly related to transmission of HTLV-I. DESIGN: Migrant, family study. Antibody state was determined by several methods and confirmed by western blotting; the polymerase chain reaction was used to detect proviral DNA. SETTING: Britain and Jamaica. SUBJECTS: All available first degree relatives: those born and still resident in Jamaica (group 1); those born in Jamaica who migrated to Britain (group 2); and index patients' children who were born and resident in Britain (group 3). All had been breast fed and none had had blood transfusions. RESULTS: Of the 66 living relatives, 60 were traced. Seroprevalence among those born in Jamaica (irrespective of current residence) was 22% (10/46; 95% confidence limits 9 to 34%) compared with zero among British born offspring (0/14) and was higher in group 2 at 33% (7/21; 12 to 55%) than in group 1 at 12% (3/25; 0 to 25%). (Patients in group 1 had the greatest mean age.) Proviral DNA was not detected in any subject negative for HTLV-I antibody, making prolonged viral incubation in those negative for the antibody unlikely. CONCLUSION: In this sample factors related to place of birth and early residence were more important in transmission of HTLV-I than maternal or age effects. In areas with a low to moderate prevalence policies of preventing mothers who are carriers of the virus from breast feeding would be premature.


Journal article



Publication Date





300 - 304


Base Sequence, Carrier State, DNA, Viral, Female, HTLV-I Antibodies, HTLV-I Infections, Humans, Jamaica, Male, Middle Aged, Molecular Sequence Data, Paraparesis, Tropical Spastic, Pedigree, Polymerase Chain Reaction, Prevalence, Time Factors, United Kingdom