Real-time PCR-based quantitation of viable Mycobacterium leprae strain from clinical samples and environmental sources and its genotype in multi-case leprosy families of India.
The potential role of environmental M. leprae in the transmission of leprosy remains unknown. We investigated role of environment as a possible source of viable M. leprae responsible for transmission of leprosy. The samples were collected from 10 multi-case leprosy families comprising, slit skin smear (SSS) from 9 multibacillary (MB), 16 paucibacillary cases (PB), 22 household contacts, and 38 environmental soil samples. The quantum of viable M. leprae was estimated by qRT-PCR using 16S rRNA gene from soil and SSS. Genotypes of M. leprae were determined by gene sequencing. We could observe presence of viable M. leprae in 11 (44%) leprosy cases (M. leprae 16S rRNA gene copies range from 1.78 × 10 to 8.782 × 10) and 4 (18%) household contacts (M. leprae 16S rRNA gene copies range from 2.54 × 10 and 7.47 × 10). Remarkably, presence of viable M. leprae was also noted in 10 (53%) soil samples where in M. leprae 16S rRNA gene copies ranged from 4.36 × 10 to 7.68 × 10. M leprae subtype 1D was noted in most of the leprosy cases their household contacts and in the surrounding soil samples indicating source of infection in household contacts could be from environment or patients. M. leprae 16S rRNA copies were approximately similar in both PB cases and soil samples along with presence of SNP type 1 subtype 1D in both samples indicating source of M. leprae from patients to contacts was either from patients or environment or both.