Thursday, May 5, 2011

Armadillos: Leprosy carriers?

Leprosy, a debilitating infectious disease known to us since biblical times still affects 150-250 people every year in the Unites States. How is this possible? Why isn't it eradicated? Are we at risk?
If we believe a recent article published in the NY Times, unless you regularly handle or encounter armadillos you should be safe.

Armadillo playing in the grass in Palm Coast, FLImage via Wikipedia
Armadillos are new world mammals characterized by a leathery armored shell. They are great diggers and roll themselves into armored balls when threatened. 
Armadillos can be found in the south-east of the U.S.A all the way down through Central America extending to northern Argentina.



That's not all, they are also the carriers of Mycobacteriumleprae, the microorganism responsible for leprosy. Their low body temperature (31-35 degrees Celsius) is ideal for the bacteria's development. It's preference for cooler temperatures also explains why leprosy attacks the skin first, the coolest of our organs.

There isn't a cure yet but there are treatments to control the symptoms. Scientists are studying infected armadillos in hopes to find a cure for this illness.  While they do that, let's dispel some common myths about leprosy.

Leprosy is highly contagious.
False. There are two types of leprosy, and only one is contagious and only mildly at that. Transmission is thought to be through nasal droplets like the a cold or the flu. It is not sexually transmitted and requires a high level of exposure. The rumor of it being highly contagious has been linked to Leprosy camps back in the day that also took in patients with syphilis. Syphilis is a highly contagious sexually transmitted diseases which can cause skin lesions resembling leprosy in its final stage.

You're limbs fall off one after the other.
False. Leprosy causes skin lesions, loss of feeling in your limbs (which increases the risk of injury) and muscle weakness.


Interested to learn more about the relationship between armadillos and leprosy in the U.S, follow the links below.


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2 comments:

  1. thank you! Now I know no matter how cute they look, I wont touch them loll :)

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