Confirmed infection with HTLV-II (human T cell leukemia virus type II) has been described only in rare cases. The major limitation to serological diagnosis of HTLV-II has been the difficulty of distinguishing HTLV-II from HTLV-I (human T cell leukemia virus type I) infection, because of substantial cross-reactivity between the viruses. A sensitive modification of the polymerase chain reaction method was used to provide unambiguous molecular evidence that a significant proportion of intravenous drug abusers are infected with HTLV, and the majority of these individuals are infected with HTLV-II rather than HTLV-I. Of 23 individuals confirmed by polymerase chain reaction analysis to be infected with HTLV, 21 were identified to be infected with HTLV-II, and 2 were infected with HTLV-I. Molecular identification of an HTLV-II-infected population provides an opportunity to investigate the pathogenicity of HTLV-II in humans.
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