Armadillo Leprosy: Is This A Real Threat?
Armadillos may seem harmless, but there is one thing that many do not realize: they could spread deadly diseases. One of the most common concerns about armadillos today, and one that has circled the internet a lot lately, is the issue of armadillos and leprosy.
Do Armadillos Carry Leprosy?
In 2015, officials in Florida stated that there were three new cases of leprosy found in their state. This is an ancient disease that was typically handled by strict isolation. However, Florida received reports of the cases within a five-month period, and two of those cases were directly linked to the armadillo.
The leprosy-armadillos connection is not something commonly discussed, but it should be. The New England Journal of Medicine has published an article that cites the correlation between the creature and human leprosy cases. There are instances where armadillos and humans carry the same strain of leprosy.
Leprosy is fragile as a disease. In fact, it cannot live outside the body, which is why it is difficult for scientists to grow and study it in laboratories. Leprosy in armadillos could occur because of the armadillos’ natural body temperature. Basically, they are not too hot, but also not too cold. They offer the prime environment for the disease to thrive and spread.
What is Leprosy?
Leprosy is often referred to as Hansen’s Disease (HD). This is a long-term infection that comes from the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae. Infections typically do not have symptoms, and the illness may remain dormant for five to 20 years.
Then, symptoms will suddenly appear and include granulomas that form on the nerves, skin, and eyes. This can create an inability to feel pain, loss of extremities, and repeat infections or injuries. Weakness and limited eyesight are also common in long-term leprosy sufferers.
Leprosy, however, can be cured using a combination of drug therapy approaches. Treatments can include high-dose antibiotics for six months, while others require up to one year of therapy. There are a variety of medicines already approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) for treating leprosy in humans.
When leprosy is not treated, it can cause permanent disfigurement.
Signs and Symptoms of Leprosy
Most of the signs of leprosy include granulomas. Some may appear on the peripheral nerves, while others may show up in the respiratory tract. There are also skin lesions, which include light or dark patches on the skin. This is often the first recognizable sign of leprosy.
When leprosy is left untreated, it could progress significantly and lead to permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs, and eyes. However, body parts do not fall off with leprosy. Instead, they are diseased and numbed. They are eventually amputated because of a severe infection that was left untreated. Secondary infections can also force the body to lose tissue and cartilage could be absorbed back into the body.
Skeptics about Leprosy and Armadillos
There is a high amount of skepticism about armadillos posing a threat to humans, let alone transferring the disease. While they have been scientifically proven to be carriers, scientists also believe that armadillos are not a likely source of contamination.
The reason scientists have questioned outbreaks with armadillos and humans is because the disease lies dormant in the body. The earliest symptoms are seen a minimum of three years after infection. And, it is unlikely that anyone would recall having interacted with an armadillo that long ago.
However, scientists also confirm that there is the possibility that a person could contract the disease from an armadillo, but they do not think a person would know where they contracted it from.
Millions of people interact with armadillos on a daily basis, and the number of leprosy cases has not increased as a result. That is another reason that scientists are skeptical that armadillos could pass on the disease.
Humans should still consider the risk of interacting with armadillos – especially if they are worried they may contract leprosy. If someone does interact with them, it may be in his or her best interest to write it down (including date and time), so that if they develop symptoms later, they can refer to their interaction to see if it fits the timeline for infection.