“A preponderance of evidence shows that people get leprosy from these animals,” said Richard W. Truman, director of microbiology at the National Hansen’s Disease Program in Baton Rouge and lead author of a paper detailing the discovery in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Until now, scientists believed that leprosy was passed only from human to human.
Every year, about 100 to 150 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the ailment, which is also known as Hansen’s disease.
Though many have traveled to countries where the disease is relatively common, as many as a third don’t know where they picked it up.
Most of those cases are in Texas and Louisiana, where leprosy-infected armadillos live too.
Now, Truman said, “we’re able to provide a link.”
In the past, people with leprosy were confined to leper colonies such as the institution at Carville.
Now, it is treatable with a combination of three antibiotics, said Dr. James Krahenbuhl, director of the National Hansen’s Disease Program. About 3,600 people in the U.S. have the disease, he added, and they aren’t expected to die from it.
“Now we have the link,” he said of the long-held suspicion that the armadillo carried the bacterium that causes leprosy.
That bacterium is a cousin of the one that causes TB.
Truman advises people to just leave armadillos alone