Don’t want leprosy? Stay away from armadillos

While leprosy continues to ravage countries across the globe, with approximately 200,000 cases reported each year, it is exceedingly rare condition in developed countries. In the United States, for instance, only 50 to 100 cases of leprosy occur annually. Those wondering how these cases arise may be surprised by the answer. Most annual cases of leprosy in the United States are directly attributable to contact with one particular animal: the armadillo. Over half of these plated mammals carry leprosy due to their low body temperature, which allows the leprosy infection to thrive.

Ironically, humans were the initial cause of leprosy’s appearance in armadillos, an event which can likely be traced to the 1960s. It can be viewed as an extremely dark example of Schadenfreude that armadillos have returned the favor.

While 95% of the human population is immune to leprosy, and treatment is widespread, substantial interaction with armadillos is still hazardous. In the town of Belterra in Brazil, where residents hunt and eat armadillos, approximately 5% of the population is infected with leprosy and over half had leprosy antibodies. The presence of the antibodies intimates exposure to leprosy bacteria.

In summary, anyone tempted to try roasted armadillo should probably second-guess the thought.