Armed with genetic sequencing machines, federal researchers have recently confirmed that armadillos are not only capable of transmitting leprosy to humans, but account for a full third of the 150 to 250 documented leprosy cases in America each year.
This knowledge may help inform doctors in Louisiana and Texas, where most armadillo-borne leprosy cases take place: Previously, it was a common rule of thumb that patients would only be screened for leprosy if they had traveled to a select few hotspots overseas or come into contact with someone with leprosy, but now, armadillo contact will have to be considered as well.
Now, for the really weird part: Armadillos apparently first contracted leprosy hundreds of years ago from … humans.
One of the interesting aspects of leprosy is that transmission seems to have gone in both directions. Leprosy was not present in the New World before Christopher Columbus, and armadillos are indigenous only to the New World.
“So armadillos had to have acquired it from humans sometime in the last 400 to 500 years,” said Dr. Richard W. Truman, a researcher at the National Hansen’s Disease Program in Baton Rouge, La., and an author of the armadillo study.
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