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.