Leprosy has been gone from Europe since medieval times but now there are signs that leprosy might be back. A recent study showed that leprosy might be carried by the British red squirrels. These animals carry two bacteria that cause leprosy. Scientists mentioned that there is little threat to people.
The study that was published in the Science journal showed that these British red squirrels had some abnormalities and researchers discovered that they had a type of leprosy. The researchers discovered the abnormalities in 2014 when they were doing another study on these animals. They saw that the British red squirrels had some growths on their limbs, snout, and ears.
The scientists were conducting the study because these squirrels are threatened because they are continuously losing their habitat. The researchers believe that there is no real threat for the population of squirrels but the animals that are infected might suffer.
Only two types of bacteria can cause leprosy: the one that is also known as “human leprosy”, named Mycobacterium leprae, and another one that was recently discovered, the Mycobacterium lepromatous. These squirrels are infected with the one that was discovered more recently.
After the report was made public, more people alerted the Edinburgh researchers that there are some suspicious looking red squirrels around the UK. One of the species was the one living in the south of England, on an isolated island.
“We took samples from those squirrels, investigated further and we found that the squirrels on Brownsea Island were also infected with leprosy, and it’s the human form of the disease,” said Prof Anna Meredith
Researchers are now trying to find how these British red squirrels got the disease. They can’t really figure out if the animals got it from humans and if they can pass it back to humans. And if they got if from humans, that means that they were carrying this disease for hundreds of years and they have been passing it down to their babies.
Researchers are going to make more studies on this topic in order to find out if squirrels from other parts of the world are infected and if they infected humans too. They are going to study rodents across the world to find out if humans are in danger.
Image source: Wikipedia