A WORRIED medic has warned a leprosy outbreak could spread like a plague among hundreds of thousands of homeless people in the US.
Dr Marc Siegel, of New York University, fears it is now only a “matter of time” before the horror disease strikes on America’s streets.
The homeless are particularly vulnerable to the disease[/caption]
He said a combination of poor hygiene, a lack of shelter and access to medical treatment is creating a “perfect cauldron” for the disease to thrive among the homeless.
And Dr Siegel singled out Los Angeles County as being particularly at risk – with almost 60,000 people sleeping rough in and around the city.
Leprosy affects 250,000 people worldwide every year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Two thirds of all recorded cases are in India, which is home to one third of the world’s poorest people, Dr Siegel wrote in The Hill.
What is leprosy and how is it spread?
Leprosy is a contagious disease that affects the skin and can cause a lack of ability to feel pain.
It is caused by a slow-multiplying bacteria, mycobacterium leprae, which starts by damaging the small nerves in the skin’s surface.
The disease can then spread, going on to damage the nerves in the elbow, wrist and ankle.
It can also cause a loss of sensation to the feet and hands.
As its victims are unable to feel pain, they can often suffer burns, ulcers and other injuries without realising.
The infection can also damage eyelids, making it difficult for those infected to blink while other symptoms include a flattened nose or clawed hand.
While it is not as highly contagious as once thought, the World Health Organisation has reported that the exact way that leprosy is transmitted remains unknown.
Despite the horror stories, the condition can be treated and cured with standard antibiotics and multidrug therapy but the treatments cannot reverse the physical impacts caused.
“It seems only a matter of time before leprosy could take hold among the homeless population in an area such as Los Angeles County,” he wrote.
“[It has] close to 60,000 homeless people, [of which] 75 per cent lack even temporary shelter or adequate hygiene and medical treatment.
“All of those factors make a perfect cauldron for a contagious disease.”
Dr Siegel claims he is particularly concerned about the shocking disabilities leprosy can leave sufferers.
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He added: “Leprosy appearing among the homeless in LA is a sure recipe for instant public panic.”
The bacteria behind the infection attacks nerves in the body, which can lead to the characteristic “peeling” skin.
Dr Siegel’s concerns come after typhus swept LA County, infecting a city hall prosecutor and more than 100 others.
Leprosy causes the sufferer to lose feeling in their hands and limbs[/caption]