Preparedness Warning: Armadillos and Leprosy
You’ve heard me saying “If you can’t beat em, eat em!”. No, I wasn’t encouraging you to become a fine young cannibal, I was talking about eating invasive species on a recent show, things like Asian carp, lionfish, kudzu, etc.One thing you might have noticed that I didn’t put on the menu was Possum on the Half Shell, aka Armadillo. If you’re a roadkill enthusiast, you’ve probably think armadillo is good eatin’, but there is something you should know before roasting them up:
Armadillos are the only animals besides humans known to carry leprosy.
Each year only about 150 people in the U.S. are infected with leprosy, a bacterial disease that damages nerves and causes loss of things like fingers, toes and noses. In most cases, people are infected by a human with the disease, usually while traveling to underdeveloped areas, such as Africa and Asia, where the disease is endemic.
There have, however, been several reports of leprosy in humans who have handled, killed or eaten armadillos, or who may have been indirectly exposed by gardening in soil where the animals burrow . It wasn’t known whether a human could get the illness from armadillos, until just a few months ago. In a recent study, Researchers analyzed the gene map of leprosy bacteria collected from seven patients and one armadillo. After identifying specific strains, they compared them with a larger group of 50 infected people and 33 armadillos.
Armadillos and Humans
Of this group, 25 patients and 28 armadillos shared a genetically identical strain of leprosy bacteria. And at least 8 of the 25 patients carrying the strain reported contact with armadillos. Scientists estimate that the chance of a human with the armadillo strain of leprosy getting it from something OTHER than an armadillo as 10000-1. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to get the connection.
The armadillo population in the U.S. is increasing,; development doesn’t bother them. In some places, up to 15 percent have leprosy. For now, the infected animals are concentrated in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama, but the armadillo population appears to be spreading north and east. So think twice before fixing up a mess of roadkill casserole. Keeping healthy in times of trouble has as much to do with preventing illness as it does with treating it (probably a lot more)!