The presence of the human T cell lymphotropic virus (HTLV-I/II) in South America is well established. Its origin and spectrum in the continent still remain a matter of debate. There are signs now that HTLV-I/II was already present in the Amerindian population coming originally from Asia and that HTLV-I was also introduced with African slave trade and with immigration of individuals from endemic areas of Japan. South America has approximately 350 million inhabitants in its 13 countries. The presence of HTLV-I/II has been reported with impressive numbers in most of them and may be considered endemic in this continent. The distribution of HTLV 1/1 among native Amerindian populations has shown a geo- graphic clustering of type I in the Andean highlands and Brazilian coast, while type II predominates in lowlands of South America. Although comparability between studies conducted among blood donors in different countries may be difficult, the data indicate that the viruses are also circulating among otherwise healthy individuals. Undoubtedly, HTLV-I/tl infection and its related diseases should be considered a public health concern in South America and measures to prevent its spread should be emphasized.