Armadillos & Leprosy

April 28, 2011 by USA Post 

Armadillos & Leprosy, A new genetic study reports that armadillo’s leprosy bacteria can be a source of infection in the southern United States. The collaboration between scientists from the Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) National Hansen’s Disease Program (NHDP) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne and the Pasteur Institute in Europe, and the Institute of Venezuela Biomedicine sheds light on the potential risk of transmission of leprosy bacteria between humans and armadillos. The risk of transmission is extremely low.

The study, led by Richard W. Truman, Ph.D., Research Scientist in NHDP, and published in April 28 issue of the journal New England Journal of Medicine, has been partially funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the Institutes National Health.

“Leprosy is feared throughout human history, and there are still regions in several countries, including the southern United States where new cases of this disease are happening,” said Truman. “The results of this study will help us better understand where some of these infections originate.”

Caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae, leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, mainly affects the skin and peripheral nerves. It is a chronic infection that affects more than 2 million people worldwide with nerve damage, deformity and disability. At present, leprosy is found mainly in tropical regions of the world, at least 250,000 new cases are reported globally each year, with 150 to 250 cases occurred in the United States. Leprosy is treatable with antibiotics, but easily diagnosed, and delays in treatment increase the likelihood of disability and deformity.

Leprosy is thought to be spread between humans only through respiratory droplets. Armadillos are the only other known natural hosts of leprosy bacteria. These results confirm long-suspected relationship between the armadillos and 30 to 40 new leprosy cases seen each year in the United States born in the United States who have never traveled abroad to the regions where the disease is prevalent.

The new study, scientists compared the genetic sequences of M. leprae taken from humans and armadillos in the United States. They found that 64% of human samples had a particular genotype who had never seen before, and 85% of the samples shared the same genotype armadillos.

“These findings do not change the risk of leprosy in armadillos, which remains extremely low,” said Dr. James Kr? Henbühl, director of NHDP. “The armadillos have been suspected as a source of human infection in the area of?? The Gulf Coast for 40 years.”

“Genetics and genomics have become important tools for studying how diseases behave in natural environments,” said Christine Sizemore, Ph.D., chief of the Section of Tuberculosis and other mycobacterial diseases at NIAID. “The data and methods used in this study can be applied in other areas of the world to control the transmission of leprosy and to identify other potential environmental concerns.”

The NHDP is a center of excellence consisting of an outpatient clinic and referral center for treatment and rehabilitation, training and research, all focusing on leprosy. The NHDP outpatient clinic and 11 clinics in the U.S. contract handled 3,000 cases. An additional 600 cases are handled by private sector physicians and consulting services provided by doctors NHDP. The NHDP is the sole provider of these services in the United States: Visit or NIAID Leprosy page web. Aspx for more information about leprosy.

NIAID conducts and supports research at NIH in the United States and around the world to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated, and to develop better means of prevention, diagnosis and treatment of these diseases. Press releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at About NIH: NIH, national medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency for conducting and basic medical research, clinical and translational, and is investigating the causes, treatments and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

SOURCE Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)

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