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HTLV-1-associated infective dermatitis (HAID) is the main paediatric manifestation of human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1). It is characterised by a chronic exudative eczematous eruption and persistent infection with Staphylococcus aureus (SA) and beta-haemolytic streptococci (BHS). Prevalence is highest in the Caribbean and Brazil; however, cases have been reported in other HTLV-1 endemic regions. Approximately 20 million people worldwide are infected with HTLV-1 and only 5–10% suffer from disease. Other manifestations include adult T-cell leukaemia/lymphoma (ATLL) and tropical spastic paraparesis/HTLV-1-associated myelopathy (TSP/HAM). HAID may also progress to ATLL or TSP/HAM. Treatment options are limited to prolonged antibiotic therapy. The aim of this paper is to review existing evidence and propose new theories on the pathogenesis of HAID. The current view is that HTLV-1 infection is required and in susceptible individuals leads to immune dysregulation with subsequent immunosuppression and superinfection with SA and BHS. Evidence suggests that host, environment and genetic factors may play a causative role. Genetic factors within ethnic groups determine host immune response and carrier state or disease manifestation of HTLV-1 infection. Increased IgE levels may contribute to the SA and BHS superinfection in HAID. Additionally, the possible impact of filaggrin, skin proteinase dysregulation, Langerhans cell dysfunction and TH2 chemokines is highlighted. More than 45 years since the discovery of HAID, the exact pathogenesis is still not fully understood. Further research is still needed to clearly elucidate the exact pathogenic mechanism of HAID.