Doctors puzzled by how 10 British men caught a little-known virus have concluded they became exposed during religious self-flagellation, highlighting a new way to transmit blood-borne diseases.
The unnamed patients had all taken part in group Shia Muslim rituals cutting or scourging themselves in Iraq, Pakistan, India and the UK.
“There have been suggestions that you might spread infections through this route, but it has never been described before” in a published medical study, said Dr Divya Dhasmana of St. Mary’s Hospital in London.
A paper published by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said doctors could at first find no easy explanation for how the men were infected with human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1).
The virus is typically spread via blood transfusions, sexual contact, breastfeeding and sharing needles. While most never develop and symptoms, some can go on to suffer blood cancer or a debilitating nervous system condition.
The men had each been diagnosed by screening programmes in the preceding years, or during routine tests such as before undergoing IVF, but showed none of the lifestyle factors typically associated with infection.