WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Self-flagellation is a religious ritual of hitting oneself with whipping blades to express one’s faith, and is common in some parts of the globe; however, it can now transmit dangerous viruses.
- Based on a study by London scientists, people who engage in this ritual that involves sharing of bloodstained blades or reusing infected and unsterilized equipment have been found to be infected with a virus that is a relative of HIV, called HTLV-1.
- When infected with this virus, some may develop cancer of the T-cells, while some may develop a chronic disease in the nervous system that has no cure.
Doctors were perplexed when a little-known virus was found to have infected 10 people from London who showed no identifiable risk factors for blood-borne viruses. But when they saw the scars on their backs, this led them to learn that they’re all Muslims participating in blade-sharing religious rituals.
Self-flagellation is a religious rite practiced by some Shia Islamic and Catholic communities. With the use of rods or whipping blades, the ritual involves inflicting wounds on oneself as an expression of faith. Despite being a common practice in some parts of the world, this religious ceremony has never been officially considered as a risk factor, until now.
“It is likely that either sharing blood-stained blades, reusing personal equipment after inadequate cleaning with a shared disinfectant, contact of infected blood with open wounds, or contact with infected medical equipment resulted in HTLV-1 transmission,” explained the study authors.
The HTLV-1 is a distant relative of HIV where the majority of people infected with it do not manifest any symptoms. While about 2 to 5 percent of the infected is likely to develop a cancer of the T-cells, less than 2 percent of the infected will also develop a chronic disease involving the nervous system called HAM/TSP, of which there is no cure yet.
Even though all the blades being used were soaked in a pail of an antiseptic solution as claimed by one of the men, this was not enough to sterilize the equipment, thus, the virus survived and spread to the other men who opened wounds with the blade.
While breastfeeding, sharing needles and sexual interactions are the common causes of transmission, study findings have led doctors to include self-flagellation as another way to transmit deadly viral blood infection. In addition, one of the men was also noted to have contracted the blood-borne virus hepatitis C that may later threaten liver damage.
Dr Divya Dhasmana of St. Mary’s Hospital in London tells The Associated Press that their message is this: ‘If you do it, don’t share equipment.”
Scientists from the Imperial College London and St. Mary’s Hospital in London have documented the spread of Human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) by self-flagellation, and have reported it in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal.
Source: IFL Science