Armadillos Spread Leprosy to Humans in the U.S.

Scientists have discovered the culprit behind the leprosy outbreak in the southern U.S. It is an animal called armadillo. Leprosy affects only about 150 people annually in the U.S. Most cases occur among visitors to countries like Angola, Brazil and India, where the disease is more common.

Armadillos are known to harbor leprosy-causing bacteria. An international team investigated the recent spread of leprosy in the southern U.S. Their findings were published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine. They believe eating armadillo meat or handling the animals could spread leprosy.

The scientists took DNA samples from wild armadillos in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas. They also studied skin biopsies taken from leprosy patients getting treatment in Baton Rouge. 75% of these patients did not have foreign exposure, but could have had contact with armadillos.

The researchers found genetic similarity in leprosy strains taken from the armadillos and the patients. Many patients admitted having contact with armadillos; some routinely ate armadillo meat.

Leprosy is a curable disease if treated early. But, it can take a couple of years for the antibiotics to fully remove the germ from a patient’s body.

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