HEALTH FIRST MEDICAL MINUTE: Dr. Timothy Laird Explains ‘Ancient’ Leprosy is Still Around, But Nothing To Fear
By Space Coast Daily // September 5, 2023
Disease once believed to be a “sinner’s curse” could be traced to armadillos
WATCH HEALTH FIRST MEDICAL MINUTE: Experts, including Health First Medical Group’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Timothy Laird, say leprosy is easily treatable and is nothing to fear. The disease, explained Dr. Laird, is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium Leprae, which attacks nerves under the skin. The way leprosy spreads is not entirely known, but many health officials believe that its transmitted via droplets when an infected person coughs and sneezes. Its telltale symptoms include lesions and rashes that become numb or lack sensation.
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Leprosy (or Hansen’s disease) was once thought in ancient days to be a disease associated with a curse – or the mark of sin. And many believe the disease has long been eradicated.
But, although rare, leprosy is still around – and Central Florida (and its warm, tropical environment) has helped give the disease newer … “life.”
But experts, including Health First Medical Group’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Timothy Laird say the disease is easily treatable and is nothing to fear.
The disease, explained Dr. Laird, is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium Leprae, which attacks nerves under the skin. The way leprosy spreads is not entirely known, but many health officials believe that it’s transmitted via droplets when an infected person coughs and sneezes. Its telltale symptoms include lesions and rashes that become numb or lack sensation.
The disease is not transmitted through casual contact like shaking hands or sitting next to an infected person. Instead, spread requires prolonged close contact with someone who has untreated leprosy over many months, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 95 percent of people aren’t even susceptible because most immune systems or genetically programmed to resist it.
“Leprosy is a very slow growing organism. So usually by the time you see symptoms, its been there for some time. And because it’s so slow growing, leprosy is very easily treated with antibiotics – but you have to take the antibiotics for at least 12-24 months,” said Laird.
“The tricky part about leprosy is actually considering it,” Laird continued.
“From the doctor’s standpoint, because we don’t see a lot – there’s about 150 to 200 cases per year in the U.S. – we aren’t always thinking of checking for leprosy associated with a rash. But if the rash doesn’t respond to regular treatments, then eventually it gets biopsied, and that’s usually when the diagnosis gets detected. By the time somebody gets symptoms, they’ve likely been exposed many months – or even years.”
LINK TO ARMADILLOS?
They’re far from the cutest – and further still from the most dangerous or aggressive of Florida wildlife. But over the last few weeks, the slow, quiet and unassuming little armadillo has been raising quite the ruckus. The little gray, mostly blind critters have gotten a reputation for a type of bacteria they might be carrying.
The nine-banded armadillos in the Southeastern United States (including Florida) can also carry the bacteria. Studies have linked human infections to the leprosy strains carried by armadillos – although it’s unknown how humans encounter armadillo-carried bacteria. In fact, many patients can’t recall ever having direct contact with the animals.
“We do seem to have a cluster, a little bit higher incidence of leprosy cases here in Central Florida,” said Laird. “But again, it only affects 150 to 200 people in the entire nation. So, no I wouldn’t handle an armadillo -but I don’t like handling armadillos anyway. And if you do have a rash, particularly one that’s numb underneath, I would go see your doctor and get checked out.”