PLOS Glob Public Health. 2023 Jan 10;3(1):e0001484. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgph.0001484. eCollection 2023.
Human T-lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) is a retrovirus associated with two life-threatening diseases; HAM/TSP and ATLL. Due to the slow-growing HTLV-1 infection worldwide, WHO urged for elimination. A large border with Afghanistan, northeast Iran is an endemic region for HTLV-1 infection. Historically, Afghanistan has common sociocultural similarities to Persian peoples. This study was conducted to evaluate HTLV-1 prevalence in Afghan refugees. Also, the HTLV-1 transmission rate and understanding of whether or not the Silk Road has been the route of HTLV-1 infection to Iran were investigated. This case-control study was conducted in a rural area of Fariman city, with Afghan residents who migrated around 165 years ago, from 1857, the Treaty of Paris at the end of the Anglo-Persian war, and a refugee camp in Torbat-e-Jam city. These populations in HTLV-1 endemic area were compared to a segregated population of Afghan refugees in Semnan, the centre of Iran. Blood samples of 983 volunteers were assessed with the ELISA method for the presence of HTLV-1 antibodies and then confirmed by PCR technique. All samples from Afghan refugee camps, Semnan and Torbat-e-Jam, were negative for HTLV-1 infection. However, the prevalence of HTLV-1 infection in Fariman, a rural population of Afghan origin, was approximately 2.73%. The results showed that HTLV-1 is not endemic in Afghanistan, a war-stricken region with refugees distributed worldwide. The land Silk Road has not been the route of HTLV-1 transmission to Northeastern Iran. Importantly, HTLV-1 endemicity might occur during a long time of living in an endemic area.