Wednesday, April 27, 2011
New genetic evidence confirms a long held suspicion that the armadillo, the official small state mammal of Texas, can pass leprosy to humans. The finding should give clinicians a reason to watch for the disease in patients, say researchers, and hopefully lead to earlier diagnosis of the disease.
“There is no need to slaughter the animals or get panicked,” says Pushpendra Singh, a molecular microbiologist at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland and a co-author on the paper published 28 April in The New England Journal of Medicine. “But we proved something which was hypothesized for a long time.”
Leprosy (otherwise known as Hansen's disease) is a highly stigmatized disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae and is rare in the United States. Around 150 cases are diagnosed in the US each year, a third of which appear to be contracted locally. Contrary to popular belief, leprosy is treatable with antibiotics and doesn't cause lasting damage as long as it’s caught early. Roughly 95% of humans are immune to the disease, which is so uncommon in the US that when cases do arise, many physicians do not recognize it immediately.