Medical researchers on Wednesday said that they were initially baffled how 10 British men had become infected with a T-cell leukemia virus type 1, known as HTLV-1. Mainly because the men hadn’t taken risks usually associated with the rare disease.
But then they dug deeper to find that the answer was far more disturbing than anticipated.
Investigators learned the men had participated in weird blood-shedding religious rituals — which involved cutting and whipping themselves — in Iraq, Pakistan, India and the United Kingdom.
One of the ritual involves striking the forehead with a knife and then passing it along to other men. Another involves striking the back with a chain of blades or
One man said that during the ritual the blades being passed around were soaked in a bucket containing an over-the-counter antiseptic solution. But that is inadequate to prevent
Dr. Divya Dhasmana is one of the authors of the study released on Wednesday in a journal published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts were baffled when they found out the men were infected with human T-cell leukemia virus type 1, known as HTLV-1. Not only because the virus is considered rare, but because HTLV-1 is usually spread through breastfeeding, sex, blood transfusion and sharing of needles.
It’s estimated that up to around 10 million people worldwide are infected, though it is considered relatively rare in the United States and was so as well in the United Kingdom.
People infected with the virus never develop symptoms, but some develop terrible illnesses, like deadly blood cancer or a debilitating nervous system condition.
None of the men in the study had any symptoms. They were diagnosed by accident, through tests that preceded blood donations or in vitro fertilization procedures.
They came to the attention of researchers at St. Mary’s Hospital, which is a referral center in England for HTLV-1 cases. The mystery was solved when Dhasmana noticed scars on the back of one man, leading to questions that revealed all 10 men had participated in religious self-flagellation.
Ritual whipping or cutting oneself has been practiced among different groups, most notably by Shiite Muslims on the holy day Ashoura and satanic rituals.
It’s a practice that is controversial even within religious communities.
Dhasmana said: “Our message is not ‘Don’t do it.’ Our message is ‘If you do it, don’t share equipment.'”
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