Date: Thu, 29 May 1997 14:45:50 -0400
Subject: Leperous Armadillos
>Other than biblical tales, etc. , I have never heard of leprosy. Just
>how much of a danger does it represent, since these animals are
>rapidly proliferating across the lower southeastern US and other
>Is it a virus, or bacterial? Any add'l info would be appreciated.
Leprosy is a bacterial disease, caused by **Mycibacterium leperae**. It's
one of the hardest diseases to catch, among the least infectious of all
bacterial diseases in fact. The mode of transmission is thought to be by
respiratory-route infection, and usually only children are susceptible.
Adults can't get it easily at all, and only rarely has an adult been
infected. A history of living in a leprosy-endemic area as a child is one
of the diagnostic criteria.
It's endemic in tropical and subtropical Asia, Africa, Central and South
America and some Pacific regions. It's also found in the southern USA, but
it's quite a rare disease in this country. There used to be a large and
famous leprosarium (a leper colony) at Carville, Louisiana, but I believe
it has long since been closed.
Symptoms include skin leisions, loss of sensation in the limbs, and in
advanced cases ulceration of the skin and bone resorption, leading to the
loss of digits and so forth. Untreated and advanced cases are seriously
disfiguring and an untreated leper is a horrifying sight. There are
several "versions" of the disease and not all are so severe as this.
Leprosy is responsive to antibiotic treatment. The usual course of
treatment is with several drugs (to avoid causing resistance) and over at
least 6 months, with re-treatments continuing, sometimes up to 5 years.
There is some involvement of the immune system in that its deficient and
this is one of the factors leading to advanced forms. The old stereotype
of the leper as necessarily outside the normal community and isolated from
contact with non-lepers is out of date. The low communicability and
effectiveness of treatment make it unnecessary to keep lepers in special
All that said, I would think the odds of getting leprosy from an armadillo
are in effect zero. I think you'd be more likely to get several other
diseases from armadillos than leprosy. It isn't a big problem in the USA
and I suspect few modern physicians have ever seen a case.
Tierney, L.M., S.J. McPhee, and M.A. Papdakis. 1994. Current medical
diagnosis and treatment. 33rd edition. pp 1159-1160. Appleton & Lange,
Norwalk CT, ISBN 0-8385-1375-1.
Freerksen, E., M. Rosenfeld, and G. Spannuth. 1989. New forms of multidrug
therapy for the treatment of leprosy. Chemotherapy 35:133.
Date: Fri, 30 May 1997 08:58:32 -0400
Subject: Re: Leperous Armadillos
> > All that said, I would think the odds of getting leprosy from an armadillo
> > are in effect zero. I think you'd be more likely to get several other
> > diseases from armadillos than leprosy. It isn't a big problem in the USA
> > and I suspect few modern physicians have ever seen a case.
> > The Elitist
and John Hardin replied:
> I asked about this because I remember reading in a Texas hunting magazine a
> few years ago that a study had been done on the most recent known cases of
> leperacy in Texas and a large percentage of them had had contact with an
> armadillo in some form prior to contracting leperosy. If this is true, the
> disease may not be so uncommon for those who play with or eat armadillos.
> Now I am pulling this out of my memory so I could be wrong about all the
> facts. If anyone knows more, Please Post. I have an old recipe for
> armadillo but have been afraid to try it until I know for sure if armadillos
> are safe.
I believe the article in the newspaper may have been sincere but
incorrect. I'll check and see if I can find out how many leprosy cases
occur per year in the USA; it ought to be in the Statistical Abstract
of the USA, as leprosy is a "reportable" disease. I wouldn't worry
about armadillos, unless you played with them as a kid and/or lived
with a leper as a kid.
I will be charitable about the newspaper and/or sporting magazines and
say that while they may have tried very hard to get their facts
straight, 99.99% of the time they get it wrong. I base this on
extensive experience with the press and their "knowledge" of science
and scientific subjects. They simply haven't got the background to
follow the thread of argument in a technical paper or a presentation by
an expert; and their need for something dramatic to make the story
"work" often leads them to exaggeration and/or misunderstanding. (In
other words, they are stupid and they lie, but I'm being charitable.)
Look for further posts on this topic.
Date: Fri, 30 May 1997 10:03:17 -0400
Subject: INCIDENCE OF LEPROSY (Was: Leperous Armadillos)
OK, I checked the Statistical Abstract of the United States (Section 3,
Page 31, "Reportable Diseases") and here are the numbers of leprosy
cases for the past 20 years or so:
As you can see, leprosy is VERY rare. Not as rare as rabies, but a
sight less common than even AIDS, which isn't that common. Under 400
cases a year--usually under 300--is a very low rate of incidence, and
these figures include cases imported into the USA that may have been
contracted elsewhere. The figures don't break things down by state or
region, or by source of infection, but I'd suspect most of these cases
were in the Hawaiian Islands or along the Gulf Coast.
It's precisely because leprosy is so rare, and because it doesn't affect
any species other than humans and armadillos, that it's hard to study.
Armadillos can be infected in the lab. Humans get infected by prolonged
contact as **children** and the disease develops after a long latency
Offhand, I would say your odds of getting leprosy from an armadillo are
not nearly as good as your chances of getting AIDS from one would be.
It's not something you need to worry about; go ahead and eat those
armored woodchucks if you like.