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article imageLeprosy is the oldest ever human disease

By Tim Sandle     Feb 25, 2014 in Science
New research suggests that leprosy (or Hansen’s disease) is the oldest ever disease to infect humans, with roots that likely stem back millions of years.
Leprosy is a serious illness. Although it is rare in the West, there are still hundreds of thousands of new cases of leprosy worldwide each year with almost two-thirds of new cases reported in India. Leprosy attacks a patient's skin and nerves. Misdiagnosed or untreated, the disease can lead to extensive skin lesions, deformities in the patient's face and extremities, disabilities, and even death. The disease also carries a social stigma.
Leprosy is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. Initially infections are without symptoms and typically remain this way for five years and possibly as long as 20 years. The disease takes its name from the Latin word Lepra, which means "scaly," while the term "Hansen's disease" is named after the physician Gerhard Armauer Hansen.
New research suggests that leprosy is the most ancient of ancient diseases. Researchers have traced back current infectious bacteria to a common ancestor dating back 10 million years. At some point in its evolutionary history the bacterium made to leap to people. This was discovered using advanced genetic techniques. One thing made this trace back possible is because leprosy is a strict human disease without other hosts or reservoirs.
This means that leprosy is hardy and has proved to be very adaptable in finding human hosts over an incredibly long time period.
The research was carried out at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the findings have been published in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. The research is titled “On the Age of Leprosy.”
More about Leprosy, Disease, Bacteria, India, mycobacterium
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