By Trilokraj Tejasvi, M.D.
Clinical Lecturer in Dermatology, Director of Teledermatology
You might associate the word “leprosy” with medieval or biblical imagery, but the bacterial disease is very real, though rare, today. It is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium leprae. It’s important we spread the word, because when diagnosed early, leprosy is easy to treat and cure.
I’ve provided care for thousands of leprosy patients in India, and now oversee one newly-diagnosed case here in Michigan. Most people are immune to leprosy (about 95 percent), but a small number of Americans still contract the disease every year, mostly in Gulf Coast states such as Florida, Louisiana and Texas, where many of Michigan’s snowbird residents travel in the winter.
The increased number of cases so far in Florida this year might be related to the nine-banded armadillo, a small animal common in Florida that can spread leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease. We should all avoid contact with armadillos, including hunting them or getting close enough to risk exposure to their secretions.
If you’re a snowbird, or travel frequently to the Gulf Coast, it’s important for you to recognize the symptoms of leprosy, because they might not appear for months or years.
Symptoms to look out for:
- Localized area of skin which is red or pale with no sensation or sweating
- Loss of sensation in the hands and feet with multiple red or pale patches
If you’re concerned, please visit your primary care physician or a dermatologist and let them know if you’ve been to Florida, Texas or Louisiana, or if you’ve had contact with armadillos in the past. Leprosy is diagnosed with a skin biopsy, and the antibiotic treatment is available free of cost through the National Hansen’s Disease Program.
The antibiotics quickly make the patient non-contagious, and taking them for 1-2 years will kill all the bacteria in the body which cause leprosy. While the nerve damage is irreversible, patients are cured after completing the course of antibiotics.
Take the next steps:
- Watch the full Local 4 segment on leprosy.
- Learn more about Dermatology at the University of Michigan Health System.
Trilokraj Tejasvi, MD, MBBS, is a Clinical Lecturer in the Department of Dermatology and the director of Teledermatology at the University of Michigan. Dr. Tejasvi’s experience treating patients with leprosy began in India, where he attended Karnataka Institute of Medical Sciences. He then completed his dermatology residency at All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Dr. Tejasvi’s primary clinical research interest is teledermatology and skin imaging. He is an expert in tropical dermatology and vitiligo.
For more than 160 years, the University of Michigan Health System has been a national leader in advanced patient care, innovative research to improve human health and comprehensive education of physicians and medical scientists. The three U-M hospitals have been recognized numerous times for excellence in patient care, including a #1 ranking in Michigan and national rankings in many specialty areas by U.S. News & World Report.