Believe it or not, Leprosy, a disease that’s been documented since Biblical times, still exists in the United States today. But in case you feel an Ebola-like freak out coming on, take a deep breath – it’s really, really, really rare. And nobody gets sent off to a leper colony anymore either, these days Leprosy (aka Hansen’s disease) gets successfully treated and cured with antibiotics.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) some 100 new cases each year are reported here. Compare those stats with the worldwide ones, there were 250,000 cases around the world in 2008.
Caused by two bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis, the exact method of transmission is not really known, but it is believe to be spread via nasal droplets. In addition, studies have shown it can be spread to humans who consume or handle armadillos, which is why most infections in the U.S. occur in Texas and Louisiana, the armadillo’s stopping grounds. But don’t blame the armadillo, they’re just convenient vectors; they’re native to north and south America so it’s likely they caught it from European explorers and settlers as far back as the 15th century. Prior to that Leprosy was unknown in the New World.
About 20 – 40 cases a year are diagnosed in those born in the United States, but most of the U.S. cases are in people born abroad who became infected before they came here. Leprosy rates are high in the developing world, but even there they on the decline.