Zoonotic Leprosy in the Southeastern United States
Nine-banded armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus) are naturally infected with Mycobacterium leprae and have been implicated in zoonotic transmission of leprosy. Early studies found this disease mainly in Texas and Louisiana, but armadillos in the southeastern United States appeared to be free of infection. We screened 645 armadillos from 8 locations in the southeastern United States not known to harbor enzootic leprosy for M. leprae DNA and antibodies. We found M. leprae infected armadillos at each location, and 106 (16.4%) animals had serologic/PCR evidence of infection. Using single-nucleotide polymorphism variable number tandem repeat genotyping/genome sequencing, we detected M. leprae genotype 31-2-v1 among 35 armadillos. Seven armadillos harbored a newly identified genotype (31-2-v15). In comparison, 52 human patients from the same region were infected with 31 M. leprae types. However, 42.3% (22/52) of patients were infected with 1 of the 2 M. leprae genotype strains associated with armadillos. The geographic range and complexity of zoonotic leprosy is expanding.