Monday, May 16, 2011

Don't eat that armadillo!

"Or if there be any flesh, in the skin whereof there is a hot burning, and the quick flesh that burneth have a white bright spot, somewhat reddish, or white; Then the priest shall look upon it: and, behold, if the hair in the bright spot be turned white, and it be in sight deeper than the skin; it is a leprosy broken out of the burning: wherefore the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is the plague of leprosy"
Leviticus 13:24-25, KJV

The New York Times says, "Armadillos Can Transmit Leprosy to Humans, Federal Researchers Confirm."

'Using genetic sequencing machines, researchers were able to confirm that about a third of the leprosy cases that arise each year in the United States almost certainly result from contact with infected armadillos. The cases are concentrated in Louisiana and Texas, where some people hunt, skin and eat armadillos."
This is good news for doctors who have been puzzled by U.S. Leprosy cases in individuals who had NOT traveled to leprosy hot spots around the world like India, Brazil, Africa, and the Philippines. The microbe that causes leprosy is a fragile one; it won't grow in petri dishes and survives only a week or two in moist soil. So researchers had been stumped tracking the U.S. source. But in retrospect the answer is not surprising. Leprosy only survives in two animals: humans and armadillos. Researchers have long used armadillos to grow the disease for testing.

According to the Times,
Leprosy now joins a host of other infectious diseases — including flu, H.I.V./AIDS and SARS — that are known to have jumped from animals to humans. Flu is thought to have first crossed to humans from migratory waterfowl several hundred years ago. H.I.V./AIDS first crossed from a chimpanzee about 90 years ago.
Ironically the disease may have first spread from humans to armadillos five hundred years ago. There are no traces of leprosy in the New World before Christopher Columbus.

Bottom Line

Left untreated, leprosy can cause permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes. Contrary to folklore, leprosy does not cause body parts to fall off, although they can become numb or diseased as a result of infection; infection results in tissue loss, so fingers and toes become shortened and deformed as the cartilage is absorbed into the body. Until recent times (1940s), leprosy was incurable and slightly contagious, so those infected (lepers) were shunned or forced to live in leper colonies. It is sometimes called the oldest known disease and there are many references to it in the Old and New Testaments. The Law of Moses required lepers to call out "Unclean, unclean" to warn others from touching them.

Today the infection is readily cured but it's important to catch it early before nerves are permanently damaged. Before the armadillo link was discovered, southern doctors never considered leprosy as the cause for the numb fingers their patients reported. Leprosy just made no sense if the patient had never traveled outside the U.S.

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