Cohort study of the seasonal effect on nasal carriage and the presence of Mycobacterium leprae in an endemic area in the general population.
Leprosy continues to be a significant health problem in certain pockets in developing countries. Better understanding of the transmission and source of the infection would help to decipher the transmission link, leading to control of the spread of the disease. The nose is considered to be a portal of entry, suggesting an aerial route for transmission through droplet infection. The evidence suggests that many individuals from endemic countries carry Mycobacterium leprae in their nasal cavities without having obvious symptoms of leprosy. The objective of the present study was to assess the presence of M. leprae on the nasal mucosa in the general population from a leprosy-endemic pocket. M. leprae detection was carried out using PCR targeting RLEP. Four hundred subjects from an area highly endemic for leprosy were included in the study and followed up during three different seasons--winter, summer, and monsoon--for evidence of nasal exposure to M. leprae. PCR positivity for M. leprae was observed in 29%, 21% and 31% of the samples collected in winter, summer and the monsoon season, respectively. Twenty-six individuals from the cohort showed amplification for M. leprae for all seasons. Our results are consistent with reports in the literature showing widespread exposure to M. leprae in the endemic community. The results also suggest possible association of the environmental conditions (climate) with the transmission pattern and levels of exposure to M. leprae. However, the present study indicated that the population from highly endemic pockets will have exposure to M. leprae irrespective of season.