What Happens When You Get Leprosy?

Many associate leprosy with colonies of lepers with missing limbs, but is this disease really 'flesh eating'? Trace breaks it down here.

The word leprosy has powerful connotations, evoking visions of isolated colonies and flesh-eating wounds. But the disease is actually a lot less scary that you might think -- these days, anyway -- and many myths about the disease are flat-out wrong. Trace Dominguez has the diagnosis in today's DNews report.

Myth #1: Leprosy is highly contagious. Not really. The disease primarily spreads by way of direct contact with saliva or mucus. The official scientific name for leprosy is Hansen's Disease, named after the scientist who discovered the bacteria responsible for the condition: Mycobacterium leprae.

Here's a weird detour, though: You can actually catch leprosy from armadillos. Seriously. A landmark 2011 study proved what researchers had long suspected, that a good portion of U.S. leprosy infections were transmitted by armadillos, which have an ideal body temperature for the bacteria. The moral of the story: No more licking armadillos. This means you, Kevin.

RELATED: Leprosy Threatens Red Squirrels in U.K.

Myth #2: Leprosy is incurable. Well, it used to be. Effective antibiotic regimens have been around since the 1940s, and since 1995, a multi-drug treatment has been provided to leprosy patients around the world free of cost. Also, around 95 percent of the population is immune to leprosy. So that's nice.

Myth #3: Leprosy is a flesh-eating disease that makes your limbs rot and fall off. Not at all. In its advanced stages, leprosy attacks the skin and nerve cells in the extremities, causing lesions and numbness. People who lose sensation are more prone to infections that deform the limbs and injuries that require amputation.

Trace has many more details in his report, or if you're interested in some of the historical and sociological aspects the disease, click on over to this report from our sister show Seeker Daily. We endeavor to be a full service operation when it comes to leprosy information.

-- Glenn McDonald

Learn More:

Smithsonian: How Armadillos Can Spread Leprosy

USA Today: 2 California Kids Likely Have Leprosy

The Atlantic: When the Last Patient Dies