Dynamics of Mycobacterium leprae transmission in environmental context: deciphering the role of environment as a potential reservoir.
Leprosy is a disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae. Various modes of transmission have been suggested for this disease. Transmission and risk of the infection is perhaps related to presence of the infectious cases and is controlled by environmental factors. Evidence suggests that humidity may favor survival of M. leprae in the environment. Several reports show that non-human sources like 'naturally' infected armadillos or monkeys could act as reservoir for M. leprae. Inanimate objects or fomites like articles used by infectious patients may theoretically spread infection. However, it is only through detailed knowledge of the biodiversity and ecology that the importance of this mode of transmission can be fully assessed. Our study focuses here to decipher the role of environment in the transmission of the disease. Two hundred and seven soil samples were collected from a village in endemic area where active cases also resided at the time of sample collection. Slit skin smears were collected from 13 multibacillary (MB) leprosy patients and 12 household contacts of the patients suspected to be hidden cases. DNA and RNA of M. leprae were extracted and amplified using M. leprae specific primers. Seventy-one soil samples showed presence of M. leprae DNA whereas 16S rRNA could be detected in twenty-eight of these samples. Samples, both from the environment and the patients, exhibited the same genotype when tested by single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) typing. Genotype of M. leprae found in the soil and the patients residing in the same area could help in understanding the transmission link in leprosy.