Monday, January 9, 2012

Medical Mondays: My Armadillo Gave Me Leprosy

It's one of those days. I woke up and decided to do a post on leprosy. *shrugs*

Leprosy is a very misunderstood disease. People think of sick beggars with fingers and limbs falling off left and right, severe deformities of their face and body, and of course, a horribly contagious disease without any treatment.

Not so! So let's learn some leprosy stuff.

What is it?
Leprosy (also called Hansen's Disease) is caused by a bacterium, Mycobacterium leprae.

How common is it?
In 1985, there were 54 million cases worldwide. In 2010, there were less than 300,000. In the U.S., there were 205 new cases in 2010.

Where is it most commonly found?
In developing countries, like Bangladesh, Brazil, Nigeria, for example. Most of the U.S. cases are from immigrants or those traveling to developing countries.

How do you get it?
It's usually spread through respiratory droplets, similar to the flu or colds. Some cases have been reported after contact with armadillos. Yes! The pill bugs of the animal world!

Do the armadillos suffer from leprosy too?
Most armadillos don't live long enough in the wild to manifest the disease. But in captivity, they do. Up to 20% of the armadillo population is probably affected. They probably got it from humans centuries ago! Yep, OUR fault.

How contagious is it?
Most people exposed to leprosy do NOT get the disease.

What are the symptoms?
Leprosy affects the skin and the nerve endings of the body.
After an exposure, it usually takes 3-5 years before any signs show up.
  • Skin lesions that can look like circular burn marks, target lesions, thickened reddish patches
  • Numbness within those skin lesions
  • Tingling or numbness of the hands and feet
  • Lumps and nodules on the face and earlobes
  • Loss of eyebrows and eyelashes
  • Dryness of the cornea (the clear covering over your iris), abrasions and ulcers
  • Only in advanced disease, when the numb fingers and feet allow people to get trauma and infections, are there limbs falling off--not directly due to leprosy, but the secondary infections that happen.
Factoids:
  • The leprosy bacterium grows better in cooler environments, which is why it has a tendency to affect the skin and respiratory tract and armadillos (cooler core body temperature than other animals).
  • It tends to infect men more than women
  • It's relatively slow growing
  • The nerve damage can cause disability to the legs, arms, and eyes can be permanent and cause permanent disability, which is why early treatment is very important.
Is there a vaccine?
Yes. The BCG vaccine (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin) which is usually used outside of the U.S. to prevent tuberculosis, is also over 50% effective in preventing leprosy. Because leprosy is so uncommon in the U.S., this vaccine isn't used here.

What is the treatment?
Antibiotics. Dapsone and rifampin, and sometimes a third agent clofazimine, are used for anywhere from 12 to 24 months of treatment. These medications are highly effective, meaning it's pretty easy to cure leprosy.

Not sure if you're going to run with this and write about leprosy in your next book, but if you do, do me a favor and stick an armadillo in there, okay? :)

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer. This is for fictional scenarios, only. Please check out the boring but necessary disclaimer on my sidebar --->
Also, don't forget to stop by Laura Diamond's Mental Health Mondays and Sarah Fine's The Strangest Situation for great psychiatric and psychological viewpoints on all things literary. :)

Now follow Medical Mondays on Twitter! #MedMonday

68 comments:

Sarah said...

I'm wondering if we're about to see a rise in the rate of armadillo-related medical thrillers. Now--do armadillos actually become symptomatic, or are they just carriers? Great post, Lydia, as always!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Awesome facts about leprosy. Glad to hear it's treatable.

Miranda Hardy said...

I learned something new today. I had no idea it was even still around. Interesting.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Everything I know about leprosy, I learned while reading the Thomas Covenant Chronicles by Stephen Donaldson.

Had no idea about the armadillo.

Em-Musing said...

Armadillo and leprosy? I always wonder how scientists make these connections that seem so unrelated. And LOL other than limbs falling off, the symptoms above could be symptoms of old age too.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

ROFL at Sarah's comment. I predict that will be the next best seller. Can't wait for the movie. :D

I've always considered it a disease from the medieval period. No idea why. I must have seen it on a movie.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

So, someone needs to do a book or movie involving a plague of armadillos, right?

Laura Pauling said...

Sadly, my perceptions about leprosy are from movies. I think how people were shunned and not taken care of when today, it's curable.

Coleen Patrick said...

All I can think of is learning that the biblical leprosy was often an affliction "given" as punishment after speaking gossip--yikes! :)

Connie Keller said...

I had no idea the incubation period was long. Wow! I know this is kind weird, but I can't help but wonder...does it affect armadillos the same way as humans? Nerve damage, disfigurement, etc. I mean, if you saw a deformed armadillo should you think, "Aack, leprosy?!"

LTM said...

You've been watching Ben Hur... :D No, I've always heard armadillos give you leprosy. But I never knew it was so easy to cure! Back in La., there's a treatment facility in Carville, La. Named after the family of... yep, James Carville, the famous political adviser.

So there you go! Work in some Carville while you're at it. ;p ((hugs))

JL Stratton said...

Great information, Lydia! I always anticipate your informative medical articles, and dream about how that information might fit into a murder mystery.

Although, I'm still waiting for you to post information on the poison derived from the Spotted Water Hemlock (Cowbane). I know. Very few actual deaths to humans but did you know that it is one of the most poisonous plants in North America, and grows naturally over a vast region?

B.E. Sanderson said...

Aww, poor armadillos. Thanks for the information, Lydia. Great post as usual. =o)

salarsenッ said...

Wow, three to five years to show up. So strange. I can see how people would have a difficult time figuring out what's wrong with them. I had no idea it was transmitted by breathing. Hmm... so interesting. Thanks!

julie fedderson said...

I'm not getting rid of my pet armadillo, leprosy be damned. Although my eyes have been feeling a little dry lately. . .

L.G.Smith said...

Luckily armadillos aren't cute furry little animals we want to bring home (except for Julie). Yikes!

Slamdunk said...

Great title Lydia. I'll be sure and steer clear of those armadillos now.

Lydia Kang said...

I amended the post to answer the armadillo questions...so many people curious about the armadillos, LOL!

Susan R. Mills said...

Interesting stuff! And I promise, if I ever write about Leprosy, I will put an armadillo in! :)

Katy Anders said...

"House" also had a strain he called "pretty leprosy," where the "victim" looked about 10 years younger than she should have because of it.

I watched a sciency segment on leprosy a few years back. They said that, yeah, unless it's untreated, there's no reason for it to get to the point where my grandmother describes folks she saw on the Pacific Islands getting in the Forties.

Karen Lange said...

Wow. I did not know all of this. Although I do recall learning that it was curable in an episode of Monk some years ago. :) Thanks for the info!

Clarissa Draper said...

Well, thank goodness I haven't pet any armadillos lately. I also didn't realize it was so slow going. I'm glad it curable.

Jax said...

Omg, how scary!! While it's not as bad as I thought...I'm still a hypocondrdiac. I'll show symptons by the end of the day. haha

Emily Rose said...

Wow! So many things I didn't know about leprosy! Glad it's easy to treat though.

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Wow, I guess I'll watch out for those armadillos!

Colene Murphy said...

I didn't know ANY of those things! Very interesting!! Thanks for passing on some more useful info. Never know when that could come up.

Tamara Narayan said...

I read an excellent novel about leprosy called Moloka'i. A century ago, lepers were sent to this Hawaiian island after their diagnosis. Fascinating stuff.

Meredith said...

Um, I'm never getting near an armadillo again. Which is fairly difficult here in Texas. How weird!

A Lady's Life said...

Thats a terrible disease and I am glad they have treatment for it.

Old Kitty said...

Poor Armadillos!!! They're so harmless and adorable too, poor things!!

I'm glad there's treatment for this awful disease.

Take care
x

Stephen Tremp said...

All this time I didn't think there was a cure for leprosy. Thanks for the clarification. I think of those leper colonies and how awful it must have been. And the TB facilities. I did a little research on these places in America and they were some real scary places.

Stephen Tremp said...

Oh, and I have a link back to your MEdical Mondays on my blog.

Jennifer Hillier said...

Neat! Now I know not to get a pet armadillo.

I wonder, is a vaccine recommended if you're traveling to one of those developing countries you mentioned?

Linda Gray said...

Great info! I'm thinking about how I can possibly get an armadillo in my next story arc. Love those details.

Dave Adair said...

It sounds like an armadillo fan club here. But for everyone's information, leprosy is easily treated - but frequently not treated until there's been significant damage. It's also rather difficult to catch if you're healthy.

I'm in India now, and have just finished three weeks volunteering at an amazing "outcast" community of mostly leprosy patients in central India. As the founder's family says, no one comes here by choice. I have a travel and photography blog (nice photos, or so I'm told!) that may interest you. As they sometimes say here, please to enjoy!

http://www.blog.daveadair.com/2011/12/joy-not-joy-getting-involved-at-leprosy.html

Krispy said...

That sucks it takes so long for symptoms to show up! You'll be going around for 3 years thinking you're fine and then BAM leprosy! :P

Also, poor armadillos. :(

Katy Anders said...

You know, I'm in Texas, and the running joke is that armadillos are born dead on the side of the road.

Few have ever seen a live one, though.


I'm laughing at Krispy's comment, above.
"Man, I got really drunk one night a couple years ago, and there was something with an armadillo. And here I breathed a sigh of relief when I seemed to be healthy, but... today my thumb fell off!"

We've all had those weekends...

Belle said...

Thankfully, we have no armadillos here. I don't know if people get leprosy in Canada. I'll have to look it up. I have read stories of missionaries working with victims of leprosy. I'm so glad it is easy to cure now.

mooderino said...

I'd read some stuff on leprosy before, but had no idea about the armadillo. Always learn something new here.

mood
Moody Writing
@mooderino
The Funnily Enough

Charley said...

The Armadillo Liberation and Anti-Defamation League takes issue with the claim that 20 percent of its members are infected. We don't have any data, but we take issue anyway. That's what Leagues do. Furthermore, we consider our hard outer armor to be eminently cuddly. What's with this fur fetish, anyway? Pardon me, I need to go eat some spiders and scorpions, thereby protecting you silly humans. Leprosy; cheesh!

Heather said...

That's really interesting. I had no idea! And poor armadillos!

Colin Smith said...

"It's one of those days. I woke up and decided to do a post on leprosy."

Blog quote of the day. :)

Carol Kilgore said...

In Texas, we see a lot of roadkill armadillos. I've always heard they carried leprosy.

Angela Brown said...

I'm sad to say that my only exposure to this disease is it's mention in the Holy Bible and lepers in the anime movie Princess Mononoke.

I admit to being very ignorant since it's not something we encounter often. The information shared here reminds me of the importance of research before applying something we know very little about to a story.

Alleged Author said...

I've often wondered about this disease. Great post!

Jemi Fraser said...

Armadillos! Wow. I've never heard of that - cool info!

Chris Phillips said...

between getting leprosy from armadillos, racoons giving me Leptospira, or getting Tularemia from skinning rabbits, it's a wonder I sleep at night.

Mason Canyon said...

We're starting to get armadillos in the area of Georgia where I live. Can armadillos transmit leprosy to other animals such as dogs, cats or horses? The reason I ask, my first horse died from a disease transmitted from a opossum called EPM.

Mason
Thoughts in Progress

Carrie Butler said...

You know what's weird? I actually heard about this connection during an Animal Planet binge the other night. Who knew!

Thanks for another interesting post! :)

LD Masterson said...

Okay, leprosy I was familiar with, the armadillo connection, not so much.

Sherrie Petersen said...

This is so funny! I always think of leprosy as a "Biblical" disease, not something people still get. But good to know it's curable. I'll be sure to avoid any contact with armadillos :)

Walt Mussell said...

The things I like about your posts is the fact that they seamlessly combine words that I never would have imagined belong together.

Leslie Rose said...

Holy Armadillo. I was blown away that leprosy is still so active in the world. I remember first learning about it when I was a kid and saw, I believe, Ben Hur. I checked my fingers to make sure they were attached for quite awhile after that.

Stephanie Thornton said...

I had to chuckle when I saw your title. I missed a question on an exam in my college class on the History of Disease, asking which animal also suffers from leprosy. I hadn't read the assigned article, but now I'll always remember those poor little armadillos.

There's a new pirate cartoon coming out with a leprosy spot in the preview. I almost died laughing. Not because leprosy is funny, but the preview was pretty hilarious.

November Rain - k~ said...

I love the way you approach explanations about medical maladies. The armadillo will stick with me from here forward, and I at least understand the basics of leprosy.

Was it then ignorance that had them banished in times of old? Or is it my own ignorance that believes that is what happened?

Thank you for another well written, informative post!

Susan Fields said...

Very interesting! I think I remember an episode of House where the patient had leprosy, and I was surprised that it's still around. You're right, I had many misconceptions about it!

Munk said...

Fun with context: try to use this phrase somewhere in your daily routine...
"Do me a favor and stick an armadillo in there, okay?"

Rachna Chhabria said...

Though I have seen few leprosy cases in India..its always associated with beggars, I didn't know much about it. I can't believe I am saying that this made for an interesting read as medical posts usually make me squirmy.

Ghenet Myrthil said...

Interesting! Your armadillo illustration is cute too. :)

Kelly Polark said...

Your illustrations seriously made me laugh out loud!!!

I had no idea that leprosy was still at all prevalent. And that it was easily curable!
Interesting post as always, Lydia!

Theresa Milstein said...

This made my skin crawl. I'm avoiding this like the plague. Look what you've done to me--I've gone all cliche!

gloriarichard said...

ACK! My lab has danced around armadillos who've wandered in our back yard. Armadillo spit to dog fur to me? Possible?

She's (thankfully) learned to back off now b/c she doesn't like the sound when my husband chambers a round in his shotgun.

Yes. He shoots them. No. I do not have a recipe for Armadillo stew.

lbdiamond said...

Didn't know that about the BCG vaccine!

kaney said...

The disease leprosy has made the headlines this week due to the elevation of sainthood to Jozef De Veuster, also known as Father Damien, who worked with leprosy victims on the Hawaiian island of Molokai from 1873 till his death from leprosy in 1889. To many Americans leprosy is a disease of the Old and New Testaments, however this disfiguring and potentially fatal disease is alive and well in many parts of the world.


http://www.evitalhealth.com/D3_5000.html Adrenogen

kaney said...

The disease leprosy has made the headlines this week due to the elevation of sainthood to Jozef De Veuster, also known as Father Damien, who worked with leprosy victims on the Hawaiian island of Molokai from 1873 till his death from leprosy in 1889. To many Americans leprosy is a disease of the Old and New Testaments, however this disfiguring and potentially fatal disease is alive and well in many parts of the world.

D3 5000 Adrenogen

Bethany Dean said...

I'm an archaeology student working on the pre-Conquest leper hospital in Winchester in the UK, and after studying some of the skeletons we found I can say first-hand that it's a pretty nasty disease! A lot of people think it died out in medieval times: not so. It's still around, causing misery to thousands of people. That's why we need more excellently written, informative articles like yours!

bethanydean.tumblr.com

Bethany Dean said...

I'm an archaeology student working on the pre-Conquest leper hospital in Winchester in the UK, and after studying some of the skeletons we found I can say first-hand that it's a pretty nasty disease! A lot of people think it died out in medieval times: not so. It's still around, causing misery to thousands of people. That's why we need more excellently written, informative articles like yours!

bethanydean.tumblr.com

gloria benanti said...

I found this weblog rather helpful. The particulars and exact recommendation are specifically what I was wanting. I’ve book marked and will definitely be returning.Thanks for the information in this blog.The posting in this site is very cool and also interesting.I had read the entire blog and I came to know many things which I don't know before.I am sure that the visitors who visit this site will also be enjoying reading the posts.Keep it up.Waiting for new posts from you to be posted in this site.
Become Ordained Online

 
ALL CONTENT © 2012 THE WORD IS MY OYSTER / BLOG DESIGN © 2012 SMITTEN BLOG DESIGNS