FAQs about HAM - National Multiple Sclerosis Society

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Frequently Asked Questions about HAM

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Why are the diseases HAM and TSP combined into one condition name?

The names have been combined because TSP and HAM are the same disease. TSP has been understood in the Caribbean for many decades but the cause was unknown until 1985 when evidence of HTLV-1 infection was found in the blood of the majority of patients with TSP in Martinique. At about the same time, neurologists in Japan found that patients with a particular pattern of neurological symptoms were infected with HTLV-1. They called this condition HTLV-1 associated myelopathy (HAM).

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Are men and women at the same risk of acquiring the HTLV-1 virus through sexual contact?

Women are more prone to infection than men. In Japanese couples only 10% of men will test positive for the virus after 10 years with an infected woman but 80% of women will become infected if the man is positive.
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What other conditions does HTLV-1 cause?

  • HTLV-I may also cause inflammation of the eye (uveitis), joints (arthritis), muscles (myositis), lung (alveolitis) and skin (dermatitis).
  • HTLV-1 may also cause Adult T-cell leukemia or lymphoma (ATLL), a rare form of cancer of the blood.
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What is HTLV-II?

HTLV-2 infection is similar to HTLV-1, but appears to be less capable of causing disease. Blood malignancies are not associated with infection, and while there are reports of neurological diseases similar to HAM/TSP, these are very rare, and it is unclear if they can in fact be attributed to HTLV-2 infection.

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