Nasal carriage of Mycobacterium leprae DNA in healthy individuals in Lega Robi village, Ethiopia.
The number of registered leprosy patients world-wide has decreased dramatically after extensive application of WHO recommended Multiple Drug Therapy (MDT). The annual number of new cases has, however, been almost unchanged in several populations, indicating that the infection is still present at community level. Nasal carriage of Mycobacterium leprae DNA was studied in Lega Robi village in Ethiopia. MDT had been applied for more than ten years, and 718 residents over 5 years old were eligible for the study. During the first survey nasal swab samples were collected from 664 (92.5%) individuals. The results of a Peptide Nucleic Acid-ELISA test for M. leprae DNA interpreted by stringent statistical criteria were available for 589 (88.7%) subjects. Thirty-five (5.9%) individuals without clinical signs of leprosy were positive for M. leprae DNA. Seven PCR positive individuals lived in a household where one or two other members were also positive for M. leprae DNA. During a second survey 8 (46%) of 175 interpretable PNA-ELISA tests were positive. Of 137 individuals tested twice, only two were positive on both occasions whereas 10 were PCR positive only once. The study confirms the widespread distribution of M. leprae DNA in healthy individuals. The feasibility of curbing possible transmission of subclinical infection needs further consideration.