- Currently 6,500 cases of leprosy in the United States
- Study has found that the disease can be carried by armadillos
- 1-2 million people worldwide suffer from leprosy, which is also known as Hansen’s disease
- Leprosy mostly affects the skin, but can lead to damaged nerves if left untreated
PUBLISHED: 14:19 EST, 23 July 2012 | UPDATED: 17:00 EST, 23 July 2012
Commonly referred to in the Bible, leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease) has long been thought to have been eliminated – as effective treatments are available.
However, the Health Resources and Services Administration has reported that there are currently about 6,500 cases of the disease in the U.S.
While the disease can be spread between humans through respiratory droplets, health officials warn that some Americans can be at risk when in contact with armadillos.
Last year, a study on the armoured mammals found that them to be the only non-human creatures that can carry the bacteria that cause leprosy.
Armadillos are native to mostly the southern portion of the U.S. in states like Texas, but can also be found in states as far east as Florida.
Beware the armadillo: A study last year found that the mammals are the only non-human creatures that can carry the bacteria that cause leprosy
The study, conducted by Dr Richard W. Truman and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, linked 30-40 cases of leprosy in the U.S. to armadillos.
Dr Truman said in a statement: ‘Leprosy has been feared throughout human history, and there are still regions in several countries, including in the southern United States, where new cases of this disease continue to occur.’
According to the CDC, about 1-2million people worldwide have been left permanently disabled by leprosy.
Leprosy, which mainly affects the skin, is not a killer and can easily be cured today.
But in countries where proper medical care is scarce like Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania and Nepal, the disease can lead to damaged nerves if left untreated.
Contrary to popular belief, leprosy does not cause a patient’s arms and legs to fall off, but can cause hands and fingers to shrink.
It typically starts as a light-coloured patch on the skin that can go unnoticed because it causes no pain. In the worst cases, fingers and toes are lost or blindness occurs.
The bacteria that causes the disease multiplies very slowly, with an incubation period ranging anywhere from three to 20 years.
The disease is caused by two different types of bacteria: Mycobacterium leprae and mycobacterium lepromatosis.