Human T-cell Lymphotropic Virus type-1 (HTLV-1), the first human retrovirus associated with a malignant disease, is endemic in Jamaica. Vertical transmission and sexual intercourse are the major routes of transmission. Women are at greater risk of contracting the virus as it is more efficiently transmitted from male to female than in the reverse. Prevention of transmission is best achieved by health education on safe practices. The study aims to document the knowledge, attitude and behaviour pattern (KABP) of a group of women five years after they had participated in a mother-to-child transmission of HTLV-1 risk reduction study. A cross-sectional study was conducted using a 46-point structured intervieweradministered questionnaire to capture data from 88 mothers. Overall knowledge scores were computed and four rating categories created. There were large deficiencies in the knowledge and practice of women at risk of being infected with HTLV-1. Only 58% knew that HTLV-1 is sexually transmitted. A minority was aware of HTLV-1 associated diseases: Adult T-cell lymphoma/leukaemia (ATL)–30.7%; Tropical Spastic Paraparesis (TSP) –42%; Infective dermatitis–42%). Ten (11.4%) believed that HTLV-1 infection can cause HIV/AIDS and only 33% knew that there was no cure for the virus. Most women (88.6%) continued to have unprotected sex.
Controlling HTLV-1 spread must be based on interrupting transmission. In Jamaica, donated blood is screened for HTLV-1 and sharing of infected needle is an insignificant mode of transmission. However, although safe practices in breastfeeding and sexual intercourse are proven ways to reduce HTLV-1 transmission, these data show that knowledge and safe practices among those at risk may not be retained and health education will need to be sustained.