But American physicians often overlook the illness, delaying diagnosis
FRIDAY, Dec. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Many doctors view leprosy as a scourge of Biblical times or faraway places, but there are still thousands of U.S. cases, with more diagnosed each year, experts say.
And because leprosy, also known as Hansen's Disease, remains a largely forgotten illness, U.S. physicians are often missing its diagnosis, say experts who discussed the problem this week at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene's annual meeting in New Orleans.
"We are seeing more and more cases that are advanced," noted James Krahenbuhl, one of the experts on the panel. He is director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's National Hansen's Disease Program in Baton Rouge, La, one of many regional clinics across the country.
Krahenbuhl said that there are about 150 new cases of leprosy diagnosed in the United States annually. In all, about 6,500 people in the United States now have Hansen's, with about half needing active medical management.
Cases are showing up not only in port cities -- where experts expect cases due to the arrival of immigrants -- but in many other parts of the country. That's due to changing patterns of immigration, Krahenbuhl said.
Leprosy is caused by an organism called Mycobacterium leprae. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the disease can have a long incubation period, making it difficult to figure out where or when it was contracted.
While leprosy has been around for thousands of years, not enough is known about how it is contracted. The bacteria is likely found in the soil, experts say. Armadillos are commonly infected in Texas and Louisiana, for instance, and the prevalence of the infection in animals coincides with the prevalence in humans in that area, Krahenbuhl noted.
Symptoms include skin lesions lighter than your normal
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