Feathered Bastard

The big leprosy lie, as repeated by KTAR's morning wing-nut Darrell Ankarlo.

Absolutely not Darrell Ankarlo...but this guy did have leprosy.

Last week, while I was listening to KTAR's far-right lip-flapper defend his sorry ass in the whole Ankarlo book tour controversy -- you know, where KTAR took $11,500 in RICO funds from County Attorney Andrew Thomas' office to promote Ankarlo's brown-bashing border book Another Man's Sombrero -- I heard the FM hatemonger throw out another stale, anti-immigrant canard regarding leprosy (a.k.a., Hansen's disease) that I knew was bogus from jump.

Here's the quote:

"Hey, a little thing called leprosy. 1962 to 2002, there were 900 cases in America. From 2002 to 2005, there were 9,000 cases. Because there's a different code of responsibility on the Mexican side as far as health screening. One other reason this is a significant problem."

This is a well-worn, and oft-debunked urban legend -- so much so, I heard it coming down the pike as soon as Ankar-low-brow spat the L-word. Lou Dobbs got in trouble repeating this malarkey last year, and was shot down by both 60 Minutes and the New York Times. Essentially, Ankarlo's assertion's about as close to the real deal as Monopoly Money. Ankarlo likely got this nasty piece of nativist propaganda from someone quoting the work of late medieval studies wench Madeleine Cosman, who lectured long and hard about how Mexican immigrants were all modern-day Typhoid Marys, in the guises of TB Marias or Leprosy Lupes.

I had recently read about this racist tripe in the Media Matters report Fear and Loathing in Prime Time, which takes on Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, and other media poo-spewers for using undocumented Mexicans as the scapegoats for all of American society's ills. Still, I kinda like the way the New York Times explained the issue last year when dealing with a contention by one of Dobbs' correspondents that, "There were about 900 cases of leprosy for 40 years. There have been 7,000 in the past three years."

Don't know where Ankarlo got his 9,000 number, but it's just as off-base and misused as the 7,000 figure used by Dobbs' hack above.

The following is what the Times' David Leonhardt wrote about the brouhaha last year: "To sort through all this, I called James L. Krahenbuhl, the director of the National Hansen’s Disease Program, an arm of the federal government. Leprosy in the United States is indeed largely a disease of immigrants who have come from Asia and Latin America. And the official leprosy statistics do show about 7,000 diagnosed cases — but that’s over the last 30 years, not the last three.

"The peak year was 1983, when there were 456 cases. After that, reported cases dropped steadily, falling to just 76 in 2000. Last year, there were 137.

"`It is not a public health problem — that’s the bottom line,' Mr. Krahenbuhl told me. `You’ve got a country of 300 million people. This is not something for the public to get alarmed about.'

"Much about the disease remains unknown, but researchers think people get it through prolonged close contact with someone who already has it.

"What about the increase over the last six years, to 137 cases from 76? Is that significant?

"`No,' Mr. Krahenbuhl said. It could be a statistical fluctuation, or it could be a result of better data collection in recent years. In any event, the 137 reported cases last year were fewer than in any year from 1975 to 1996."

You can see a year-by-year chart of reported leprosy cases from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, here. Note that in 2005, the last year listed, there were 166 new cases, nowhere near the peak of 456 cases in 1983.

So Ankarlo's full of Lincoln Logs, per usual. He spouts off a vicious racist lie like it's nothing, using it to rationalize his inhumane stance on illegal immigration, and the fact that the County Attorney's office is sponsoring his book tour to the tune of $11.5K in public funds.That's your RICO dollars at work, people -- helping to bolster a book by a man who effortlessly spouts such venomous mendacities.

In response to hot Toddy below: Calm down, old bean. Take your meds. Wipe the slobber off. The links you've provided so far fail to contradict the blog post above. But keep trying. For the source of your figures, check the HHS chart I've already supplied, here.

Also, I like this tidbit from one of your sources,

Hansen’s Disease specialists believe that the bacteria is spread by way of the respiratory or air borne route. Approximately 95% of the world’s population has a natural protection against or resistance to the bacteria that causes HD. Persons with this resistance will not get HD if they are exposed. For unknown reasons, there are a few people (approximately 5% of the world’s population) who have little or no protection. The susceptible person can get the disease on exposure to an untreated person with Hansen’s disease.

As for the image, it is rather striking, don't you think? And since it was in the public domain...

There you go again, Todd: I'm more than willing to admit it if I'm in error, but I'm not. Ankarlo doesn't have a cloven hoof to stand on. And you, Toddy, are still baying at the moon. At one point, you say we're on the brink of an epidemic. Then you say it's a minor disease. Pick a lane, boyo! And ease up on the Linda Blair impersonations.

At least I've got you looking at the right Web site now, the federal government's site on Hansen's, which I linked to above, thus disproving the Wikipedia contention.

Here's a summary regarding the question of national origin from the same Web site. It does not say that the 75 percent you mention are illegal, just that they were born in other countries:

Of the 166 reported cases, 125 (75%) recorded a location other than the U.S. as their place of birth. Collectively, national origin of the cases reported in 2005 could be associated with a total of 35 different countries or territories (Table 2). Of the 35 total birth countries reported, the majority of cases (68%) presented from the U.S. (41), Mexico (32), Brazil (16), Philippines (9), Dominican Republic (8), and India (7) respectively. Another 14 cases arose from among areas in the western pacific such as the Trust Territories, Micronesia or American or Western Somoa. These same patterns are generally reflected in the ten year trend summary, except notably fewer cases are now being registered among persons immigrating from Cuba or Viet Nam (Table 3).

I may follow up with more debunking of Todd's pet leprosy theory tomorrow, if it's not boring the crap out of people. Till then, I leave those curious with an interesting notation from the same source regarding race, ethnicity and Hansen's:

The ethnic or racial association identified by cases reporting in 2005 is shown in Figure 6. The 2005 distribution was in keeping with the ten year trend and shows a broad involvement of ethnic groups. While the largest number of our cases (61/166, 36%) identify themselves as being of Hispanic Origin, they are closely followed by Non-Hispanic Whites and Blacks (56/166, 34%), and then by Asian or Pacific Islanders (36/166, 22%). More than half (88/166) of all cases reporting in 2005 identified themselves as White.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons