One of the worst diseases of all times is back and spreading in Florida: three new leprosy cases have been reported in the Volusia County within the last five months. Before these new reports, the same county has hosted only one case of leprosy in the past ten years. Additionally, a nearby county has registered 18 cases in the last five years.
The main carrier of leprosy, mainly in the southern U.S., is the armadillo, which is commonly found in the area. Doctors warn that contact with this animal should be avoided as the nine-banded creatures are the only known animal carriers of mycobacterium leprae. Details about how the armadillo carries this disease have been provided in a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2011. Scientists have analyzed the genomes of the wild animal as well as those of three leprosy patients diagnosed in the U.S. Granted, not all armadillos are carriers, however it is better to err on the side of caution.
Mycobacterium leprae is the specific bacteria that cause leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, and fortunately, not everyone is susceptible. The disease is transmitted by infected individuals through droplets from the nose, mouth and through any other mean of close contact. The illness is treatable with prolonged courses of antibiotics.
After infecting an organism, the bacteria requires approximately 20 days to incubate before the first symptoms begin to appear. Leprosy affects a large variety of body parts and systems: the skin, the nerves, lining of the respiratory tract and the eyes. Tissues become damaged over the years, the skin disfigures, as does the bone and cartilage. During its terminal stages, the patients develop tumor-like growths, their facial features collapse and their hands change shape, becoming claw-like.
The entire idea behind the disease is that it seems to to a time and place long gone. Back when leprosy was a common ailment, this disease was considered a curse from God, as its own name, which means “unclean” in Hebrew: “tsara’ath”, suggests.
However, the affliction is not that long gone. WHO statistics show that, in 2012, there were a total of 189,018 known cases while 232,857 new cases were diagnosed across the planet, translating into about 1,000 cases every year. The countries where leprosy is still often diagnosed include : Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Burma, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Indonesia, Nepal, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Tanzania.
Image Source: Ars Technica