Blood Infections Traced to Islamic Ritual of Self-Flagellation

Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves with knives attached to chains to mark Ashura in Karachi, Pakistan, on Oct. 12, 2016. Shiites mark Ashura, the 10th day of the month of Muharram, to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, at the Battle of Karbala in present-day Iraq in the seventh century. (AP Photo/Shakil Adil)

Add self-flagellation to the list of ways to get a dangerous viral blood infection.

Researchers said Wednesday (March 13) that they were initially puzzled how 10 British men had become infected with a little-known virus, because the men hadn’t taken risks usually associated with the infection.

But then investigators learned they had participated in blood-shedding religious rituals — cutting or whipping themselves — in Iraq, Pakistan, India, and the United Kingdom.

“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.

She is one of the authors of the study released Wednesday in a journal published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The men were infected with human T-cell leukemia virus type 1. Most people infected with the virus never develop symptoms, but some develop terrible illnesses, like a deadly blood cancer or a debilitating nervous system condition.

HTLV-1 spreads through breastfeeding, sex, blood transfusion and sharing of needles. Experts have estimated that up to 10 million people worldwide are infected, though it is considered relatively rare in the United States and United Kingdom.

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Source: Religion News Service