Carville: Silos for Dairy Barn & Armadillo Research

Stop 9 of 9 in the Carville: The National Leprosarium tour

The 2 silos and barns in front of you were built for the dairy herd in the 1920s. By the mid-1950s, an outside vendor was supplying milk and the barn fell into disrepair.

HD has never been easy to study because the bacillus that causes it, Mycobacterium leprae, cannot grow in the lab. Finding an animal that could be infected with HD and used for research was always a top priority of the PHS.

Mycobacterium leprae thrive in the cooler parts of the human body. Armadillos have a relatively low body temperature, and so researchers speculated that armadillos might work for HD research. In addition, armadillos live long enough, 12 to 15 years, for this slow-acting disease to emerge.

In 1971, researchers led by Dr W.F. Kirchheimer successfully infected the 9-banded armadillo with Hansen's disease. After this breakthrough, Carville researchers established an "armadillo farm" at the site of the old dairy. In the 1990's, laboratory research moved to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where it continues at the Veterinary Medicine Department. Today the NHDP provides Hansen's disease bacilli to researchers worldwide. The old barn has become "The Silo Club," an all-ranks military bar and banquet hall for the Louisiana National Guard.

Quarantine laws for HD changed steadily after the "miracle drug treatment" was discovered in the late 1940's. By the 1980's, HD was an outpatient disease and Carville's population began to decline. Today there are more than a dozen clinics around the US where most new HD patients are treated. The PHS hospital closed at this site in 1999, and reopened in Baton Rouge, much reduced in size. Carville was transferred back to the state of Louisiana and the Louisiana Military Department installed.

For more information about Hansen's disease or museum exhibits and tour options, check the National Hansen's Disease Programs Museum website at www.hrsa.gov/hansensdisease/museum or call 225-642-1950. Thank you for your interest in our unique culture and important medical history.

Your narrator has been Elizabeth Schexnyder, Curator.

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