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Armadillos Carry Leprosy

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on May 2, 2011

There was a time when a major beer manufacturer ran a series of commercials where a giant armadillo hijacked a truck carrying the beer and then laid on its back cradling the bottle while guzzling the contents.  Those commercials spawned a cottage industry in killing and stuffing armadillos, then putting an empty beer bottle in their little paws and selling them as souvenirs.   A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that handling armadillos is a mistake.

Leprosy is a rare disease in the United States.  It is caused by a bacteria and armadillos are the only creatures besides humans known to carry the bacteria.  It doesn’t seem to bother the armadillos, but it will cause major problems for the human who gets it.  Usually, the first sign is a skin rash that is often dismissed by both the victim and their doctor as an unspecified allergic reaction to something.  If treated aggressively at this stage, however, leprosy, also known as Hansen’s Disease, is curable.

Once the bateria sets up housekeeping in the nervous system, however, it is a chronic disease causing some pretty terrible symptoms.  In medieval times, victims of leprosy were outcasts, herded together in remote colonies to await death as the bacteria ate away at the extremities and face from within.  Medication can now control the worst of the symptoms, but it is not something you want to get.

Sadly, up to 15 percent of armidillos are infected in some places, such as Texas, where I live.  Worse, since they dig in gardens to reach insects, you run some risk of getting infected from digging in the same spot.  How many of us have replaced plants and moved earth back where it belongs after an armadillo attack without thought?  Next time, I will use a trowel and wear gloves that can be washed in bleach after use to handle that situation.

It is illegal in Texas to have a live armadillo, or to trap them and let them go on someone else’s land.  About all you can do is avoid them.  If you are in the country, trapping and shooting them is an option.  In town, a pest control person can humanely dispose of them for you.  You can put a four foot barrier of welded wire fencing around your flower beds to keep them out, too.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Lou from Liquid Roof May 3, 2011 at 6:25 am

Nice info in fact i was searching for something else but in search i got your blog and post that is also really interesting and informative.

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Caroline Clemmons May 6, 2011 at 8:36 am

I am happy to finally have the real information on armadillos. Now no one can say it’s an old wives’ tale that armadillos carry leprosy. Good job.

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Stephanie Suesan Smith May 6, 2011 at 8:55 am

No, it turns out to be an “old mother’s tale” that is correct. You always told me mothers are never wrong.

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Austin from Electrician Houston May 9, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Yea, armadillos are pretty interesting. I didn’t realize that beer campaign had done so much damage. I use to see them all the time around Austin, but now I never see them. I saw a baby armadillo for the first time out in Pedernales State Park, it was about the cutest baby animal I’d seen ever. I did know they carried leprosy… there is an island off the Texas coast that use to be a isolation area for lepers.

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Stephanie Suesan Smith May 9, 2011 at 5:03 pm

They fall in the “so ugly they are cute” category. Armadillos are really a South American animal but have been moving steadily North during my lifetime.

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Danny from Pole chain saw September 12, 2011 at 5:18 am

Haha yeah, they are “so ugly they are cute”.

Thanks to this post I became more aware of Leprosy.
My gf is having some skin problems lately and the doctor doesn’t really know what it is. We live in China, so it could be…
I will tell her to ask the doctor to check for Hansen’s disease.
You might be a lifesaver 😀

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