Researchers have discovered that some red squirrels from England are infected with leprosy.
Although leprosy is an affliction commonly associated with the Middle Ages, scientists have found evidence that some squirrel species might carry this disease.
A team of scientists from the Global Health Institute discovered that several members of the British red squirrels carry a form of human leprosy. This rather unusual research project was initiated after scientists determined that red squirrels are starting to disappear from the British Isles.
To determine the cause of their disappearance, researcher have tested DNA samples coming from more than a hundred animals, 25 of which were roadkill. The result of the DNA analysis pointed out that approximately one-quarter of all specimens carried the Mycobacterium leprae. All tested specimens originated from the Brownsea Island, near the east coast of England.
According to the medical examiners who have performed the DNA tests, the fact that medieval leprosy was found in red squirrels is somewhat baffling since the disease hasn’t reemerged in England since the beginning of the 16th century.
Stewart T. Cole, one of the study’s authors, declared that there is little need for concern since the shy nature of the little woodland creature makes the odds of transmission to humans negligible. However, the author added that if then the odds of getting leprosy are pretty slim, there’s still a chance to get the disease if you come into contact with a critter that was infected with it.
To exemplify, Cole mentioned about US citizens who eat and keep Armadillos as pets. The researchers added that some of them came down with the disease. Thus, he cautioned park ranger who handle squirrels to wear rubber gloves all the time when handling leprosy-infected squirrels.
When testing the specimens brought from Scotland and Ireland, the researchers made another stunning discovery. It would seem that approximately nine specimens tested positive for Mycobacterium lepromatosis, one of the most dangerous forms of leprosy.
The results are even more baffling, considering that researchers believed that this form of leprosy was endemic only to the Caribbean and Mexico.
Today, leprosy can be treated with MDT or Multidrug therapy. The treatment can take a long time to complete, and it usually involves a cocktail of antibiotics like macrolides, minocycline, fluoroquinolones, dapsone, rifampin, and clofazimine.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 220,000 individuals are diagnosed each year with leprosy, most of them being from South America, Asia or Africa.
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