Leprosy did not begin in India, says French study

13th May 2005, Comments 0 comments

WASHINGTON, May 13 (AFP) - Leprosy, one of mankind's oldest diseases, originated probably in East Africa or the Middle East, not, as was previously thought, in India, researchers claim in a study published Thursday.

WASHINGTON, May 13 (AFP) - Leprosy, one of mankind's oldest diseases, originated probably in East Africa or the Middle East, not, as was previously thought, in India, researchers claim in a study published Thursday.  

A French genetics study comparing strains of the leprosy-causing bacteria has revealed some surprises about how the pathogen evolved and how it was spread across the continents by human migrations, Science says in its May 13 edition.  

Researchers from the Paris-based Pasteur Institute have concluded that leprosy spread outwards from either eastern Africa or the Middle East, after analyzing the genome of 175 different strains of the "Mycobacterium lepraede" from 21 countries on five continents.  

Ancient texts bear witness to leprosy in China, India and Egypt around 600 BC.  

But only in the last 500 years did Europeans and North Africans apparently help disseminate the disease in West Africa and the Americas through colonial conquests and the slave trade, said Stewart Cole who led the research.  

Leprosy affects the skin and nervous system of sufferers. It can even lead to disfigurement and severe handicaps.  

But contrary to what was long believed, leprosy is not very contagious and can be treated with a cocktail of drugs.  

Hundreds of thousands of people are still affected by it in developing countries, especially India. Around half a million new cases were recorded in 2003, according to the World Health Organisation.  

The leprosy bacteria for a long time presented a challenge for researchers since the genome had an unusually high number of damaged genes.  

The pathogen's slow reproduction was one of the reasons scientists found difficulties in developing laboratory cultures.  

The history of all living organisms is written in their genetic code, or genome.  

More research will be needed to confirm the theory leprosy was brought back to Europe by Greek soldiers from the Indian campaign of Alexander the Great, the researchers said.  

The complete sequence of Mycobacterium lepraede was realized in 2001 by the same team of researchers.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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