A new human T-lymphotropic virus (HTLV-4) was recently described in healthy people from Senegal. This virus has many properties in common with members of the human T-lymphotropic viruses, particularly the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV, the etiologic agent of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), but does not appear to be associated with immunodeficiency-related disorders. In the present study, serum samples were obtained from 4248 individuals from six West African countries, including Senegal, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast. These samples, collected during 1985-1987, were from people categorized as healthy control, sexually active risk, and disease populations. All samples were analyzed for reactivity to HTLV-4 and HIV by radioimmunoprecipitation-sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and immunoblotting. Evidence for HTLV-4 infection was found in five of the six countries. The seroprevalence varied markedly from country to country. Healthy sexually active individuals in the risk category had the highest levels of HTLV-4 infection compared to individuals in the healthy control category and the disease category, the latter including AIDS patients. The seroprevalence of HIV infection in most of these countries was quite low, although tightly associated with the rare cases of AIDS. The biology of HTLV-4 infection thus differs from that of HIV in Central Africa or the United States and Europe. The presence of these viruses and their different pathogenicities in several countries of West Africa indicate the necessity for serologic assays that will distinguish between them. Further studies of their origin and distribution as well as of their biology will be important in advancing our understanding of AIDS.
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