Armadillos pass leprosy to humans, study finds
Leprosy is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae, a cousin of the microbe that causes tuberculosis. People with leprosy develop skin lesions; severe cases can cause nerve damage or disfigurement in the limbs.
Over the years, M. leprae has proven hard to study, its migration around the globe hard to plot, for a variety of reasons. The bacterium can't be grown in a lab dish. Leprosy has a years-long incubation period and propagates slowly. It is hard to contract — only 5% of humans are susceptible, and even they usually need to have close and repeated contact with M. leprae to develop an infection.
In the past, people with leprosy were confined to leper colonies. Today, 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.