WEDNESDAY, April 27 (HealthDay News) -- The prehistoric-looking armadillo, already the state animal of Texas, now has a new claim to fame: leprosy.
A new study finds that armadillos carry the bacterium that causes leprosy, and have somehow passed the disease to several dozen humans in the southern United States.
"We've confirmed a long-suspected link between leprosy in humans and armadillos," said the study's lead author, Richard Truman, from the Bureau of Primary Health Care at the Health Resources and Services Administration's National Hansen's Disease Program at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.
Truman said it's important to realize that the risk of contracting leprosy (also known as Hansen's disease) from armadillos "is still infinitesimally small."
"The last thing we want is to induce panic in the population and incite a slaughter of armadillos. The best way to combat further infection is through education and prudence," the study's senior author, Stewart Cole, from the Global Health Institute in Lausanne, Switzerland, said in a news release.
James Krahenbuhl, director of the National Hansen's Disease Program, agreed. "This study doesn't change the risk of acquiring Hansen's disease from armadillos. It doesn't increase the risk. In fact, we're hoping publicity should decrease the risk by encouraging the public to decrease their contact with armadillos," he said.
Leprosy, caused by Mycobacterium leprae, is characterized by disfiguring skin lesions and peripheral nerve damage. The disease has been around since Biblical times, and was likely brought to North America by European settlers. People with leprosy were once shunned, and often forced to live in "leper colonies." Fortunately, the disease is treatable today, though it requires a long course of antibiotics.
Krahenbuhl said the treatment consists of a "cocktail" of three a
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