The summer festivals are on the horizon and countless kids enjoy seeing various wild animals at fairs and outdoor petting zoos. Before you let your children pet animals at their leisure, you might want to consider new findings that link armadillos to the biblical disease of leprosy.
A new study in the New England Journal of Health finds that twenty percent of armadillos found in the United States are infected with leprosy, and may be spreading the disease to humans.
The new findings show that wild armadillos and human patients in the Southern United States many times share the same strain of leprosy. Researchers believe it may be a regional zoonosis, or a disease that can be passed from animal to human.
“A preponderance of evidence shows that people get leprosy from these animals,” says lead author Richard W. Truman, director of microbiology at the National Hansen’s Disease Program in Baton Rouge as reported in the Los Angeles Times:
Until now, scientists believed that leprosy was passed only from human to human. Every year, about 100 to 150 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the malady, which is also known as Hansen’s disease. Though many have traveled to countries where the disease is relatively common, as many as a third don’t know where they picked it up.
Leprosy has a years-long incubation period and a slow progression. Yet there is hardly reason to panic. Leprosy is hard to contract, and only 5 percent of humans are susceptible. Out of those susceptible, one needs to have close and repeated contact with the bacteria to develop an infection.
Today, the disease does not banish those affected off to leper colonies and it is treatable with a combination of three antibiotics. About 3,600 people in the U.S. have the disease and they aren’t expected to die from it.
Still, that being said, it make sense to be on guard when your children come into contact with armadillos as with any other wild animal, and follow general hygienic precautions. Doctors caution parents to not let their kids come into contact with armadillos or eat them (yes they are still eaten) at armadillo festivals, armadillo races or armadillo hunts.
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