At least one million people are infected with human T-lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) in Japan, a small percentage of whom develop HTLV-1-associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraparesis (HAM/TSP) or adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATLL). Patients with HAM/TSP suffer from progressively worsening myelopathic symptoms, such as motor disability and bladder dysfunction, and may become wheelchair-bound or even bedridden.
To learn more about this rare, debilitating disease, we established the national registration system “HAM-net” in March 2012. We continuously obtain detailed data from enrolled patients using the registration forms and an annual telephone interview. In this retrospective study, we describe the demographics and clinical histories of 383 registered patients from all over Japan.
Patients were diagnosed at a median of 53 years old, long after disease onset at 45. Most (55.3 %) were originally from the southernmost regions, Kyushu and Okinawa. The main initial symptoms were difficulty walking (81.9 %), urinary dysfunction (38.5 %), and lower limb sensory disturbances (13.9 %). Many patients reported frequent leg numbness and leg pain, and the vast majority required medical intervention for urinary symptoms and constipation. A median of 8 years elapsed from the onset of motor symptoms to Osame Motor Disability Score (OMDS) 5 (requiring unilateral support), 12.5 years to OMDS 6 (requiring bilateral support), and 18 years to OMDS 9 (unable to walk). Health Assessment Questionnaire - Disability Index (HAQ-DI) tasks related to mobility, as opposed to hand motions, were very difficult for HAM/TSP patients and well-correlated with OMDS. Scores on the MOS 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36) indicated that physical functioning was severely impaired in HAM/TSP patients. Patients with a history of blood transfusion (19.1 %) were older and suffered from more severe disability as indicated by their high HAQ-DI scores. Patients with a family history of HAM/TSP (8.4 %) were younger and had relatively mild symptoms given their long disease durations; many (15.6 %) also had a relative with ATLL.
The HAM-net national registration system has been an effective tool for gathering personal and clinical data from HAM/TSP patients scattered throughout Japan. We expect to conduct many retrospective and prospective epidemiological studies using HAM-net in the future.