Scientists close to leprosy vaccine

Scientists from the Infectious Disease Research Institute of Seattle hope to have a new leprosy vaccine ready for safety trials by 2011.

The vaccine has been in progress since the early 2000’s when it was given a grant from the American Leprosy Missions, the Seattle Times reports. In addition to a vaccine, the Infectious Disease Research Institute of Seattle is in the process of creating a blood test that can determine whether or not a patient is infected within 10 minutes.

The IDRI's Malcolm Duthie believes that leprosy is viewed by the world as close to being eradicated. To Duthie, the Seattle Times reports, the statistics can be misleading and often only tell part of the story.

The fight against leprosy first turned a corner when the World Health Organization began to dispense free medicine to countries that reported on their rates of infection. Since then, the number of cases worldwide has dropped dramatically. Duthie believes that the WHO statistics are not reliable because there may be a significant amount of cases that are unreported or even misdiagnosed.

When clinicians enter a leprosy ridden village, according to Duthie, they often find six or seven times more cases than they expected to from reports. There is no way of determining just how many cases are not being reported.

Leprosy is often treated as something else, like a fungal infection.

"The primary way leprosy presents itself is as lesions," Duthie told the Seattle Times. "It can look like an awful lot of other diseases. [Patients] just basically get treated for the wrong thing.

"Our belief is that a vaccine will give an active protection. If we can vaccinate people, we could potentially break the transmission cycle."