Do Armadillos Carry Leprosy?

Armadillos are a different animal and a really odd mammal. For most people, armadillos pose no major problem. However, sometimes they can be a major nuisance in suburban and agricultural areas when they dig up the place looking for grubs and insects. Though many people want to know how to rid themselves of these troublesome armadillos just to save their yards or gardens, many are still asking the question, “Do armadillos carry leprosy?” Research has found that, yes, humans can very rarely get leoprosy from touching armadillos, but it’s not the only way.

Source: “Only about 150 leprosy cases occur each year in the U.S., mostly among travelers to places like India, Brazil and Angola where it’s more common. The risk of getting leprosy from an armadillo is low because most people who get exposed don’t get sick with the ancient scourge, known medically as Hansen’s disease and now easily treatable. Armadillos are one of the very few mammals that harbor the bacteria that cause the sometimes disfiguring disease, which first shows up as an unusual lumpy skin lesion.

Do armadillos carry leprosy?

Researchers at the National Hansen’s Disease Programs in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, led an international team of scientists who published their findings in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine. They think it requires frequent handling of armadillos or eating their meat for leprosy to spread.

DNA samples were taken from 33 wild armadillos in Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, where they’re sometimes referred to as “hillbilly speed bumps” because they’re often run over by cars. Scientists also took skin biopsies from 50 leprosy patients being treated at a Baton Rouge clinic. Three-quarters had never had foreign exposure, but lived in Southern states where they could have been exposed to armadillos.

An analysis found that samples from the patients and armadillos were genetically similar to each other and were different from leprosy strains found elsewhere in the world. The unique strain was found in 28 armadillos and 25 patients.

Of the 15 patients for whom researchers had information, seven said they had no contact with armadillos; eight said they did, including one who routinely hunted and ate them. While the work did not document direct transmission from animal to human, “the evidence is pretty convincing that it happens,” said Dr. Brian Currie, an infectious disease expert at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, who had no role in the study.”

As a kid, I used to love to chase armadillos and catch them. Though I was never good at trapping armadillos, I’ve handled my fair share of them. In fact, we used to even hunt them and cook them for wild game dinners — nothing like armadillo on the half shell! Okay, there was no shell, but for those that are interested armadillo meat taste a lot like pork and is actually good, if you can just get the picture of that thing out of your head while your eating it.  I’d always heard that armadillos carried a carrier of leprosy, but never had any problem with them. Do armadillos carry leprosy. Yes. Can you become infected if you handle them. Very unlikely.

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