Monday, August 20, 2007

Invasion of the Lepers!

Sorry about the long pause in posts people, but I was in California visiting my parents. Every time I go home my mother presents to me all the articles she thought I would find interesting since I last saw her. Usually this means I have a large pile of New York Times and Science clippings to sort through, and this visit was no different. Today, I want to talk about an article my mom gave me last week on Lou Dobbs. The article is from the New York Times and is a couple of months old, so if this is a repeat for some of you, I apologize.

The article centers around a statement made by Lou Dobbs in 2005 on contagious diseases. In the report, a correspondent cited that there had been 7,000 cases of leprosy in America in the past three years (2002-2005) a significant increase over the 900 cases seen in the 40 years previous to that. Mr Dobbs accompanies this report with a statement that claims the increase in leprosy is due to illegal immigration. "The invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans."

At this point in the article I did a serious double take. Firstly, a rise of that magnitude in leprosy would cause public health havoc, and result in an information campaign lead by the CDC. I also somewhat pompously assumed that I would have heard if leprosy was on the rise, since I carefully monitor the CDC and WHO infectious disease reports. Moreover, I was confused as to where all these illegal immigrants with leprosy cam from and how they had acquired the disease. L
eprosy is transmitted by contact between infected persons and healthy persons, but contact must be of a prolonged and intimate nature, such as between people living together. (NB: certain ethnic groups are more susceptible to leprosy than others) The bacteria that causes leprosy, Mycobacterium leprae, prefers warm humid climates, and can be killed with a combination of antibiotics. Therefore, these illegal immigrants would have to be from places which have leprosy, probably in warm climates, and where antibiotics are scarce. 7000 illegal immigrants from places which fit the description above seemed highly unlikely to me.

Luckily, I was not the only one who found this report hard to swallow. A general outcry from various media sources arose and asked Mr. Dobbs to verify the number of leprosy cases in America. Lou Dobbs continues to assert that the numbers presented on his program are correct, and to be fair , he is not all wrong. Indeed, according to the director of the Hansen's Disease Program,there have been 7,000 reported cases of leprosy in America, but that number is from the last 30 years, not the last three. Mr. Dobbs has yet to apologize for his error.

So, what is the real story on leprosy in America? Although it is true that most leprosy cases are found in immigrants from Asia and Latin America, there is no indication that these cases arise form illegal immigrants. Also, it is patently false that "many Americans" are threatened by leprosy. Even if you managed to spend enough time with a leprous person to catch leprosy, antibiotics are easy to obtain in America. Lou Dobbs is falsifying evidence to cause Americans to fear the illegal immigrant menace, and I, as a public health student, find fear mongering using disease to be particularly evil.


Blogger Connor said...

700 / 30 ~ 230
~ 1 leper per every 1.3 million people. Odds are there are at three at most in Chicago. Yeah, I won't be going down into a shelter over this one.

August 21, 2007 at 12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

right on, Nora.

August 30, 2007 at 1:18 PM  

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