Leprosy: Another Reason to Avoid Those Armadillos Invading from the South

May 2, 2011 at 12:52 pm
Be sure to cook thoroughly.
Be sure to cook thoroughly.
Drive outside of St. Louis, and invariably you'll see one or two of them lying dead on the side of the road. Armadillos first began arriving in southern Missouri some thirty years ago and can now be found throughout most the state.

And -- as has been proven in other states -- the funny looking critters with the armored shell could be carrying a form of leprosy that's contagious to humans. In a report released last week, scientists discovered that armadillos captured in five southern states carried a strain of Mycobacterium leprae (a.k.a. leprosy, also known as Hansen's Disease.)

Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, tells the Wall Street Journal that the study "is essentially proof" that contact with armadillos caused humans to come down with leprosy.

Each year, some 250 Americans are infected with leprosy, according to the Journal. Most catch the affliction overseas, but one-third of the cases come from people who haven't traveled abroad or had contact with other people infected. Scientists now believe those folks may have caught the disease from armadillos -- the only other animal besides humans known to carry the disfiguring ailment that can cause unsightly rashes and shriveled feet and hands.

Still, getting leprosy from an armadillo is difficult. Basically, you have to come into contact with blood or uncooked meat of an infected armadillo.

Our advice? Handle that roadkill with gloves (or tongs) and be sure to cook your 'dillo thoroughly.