Every year, about 150 Americans are diagnosed with leprosy, a disease that disfigures the skin and affects the nervous system. Two-thirds of these people pick it up while traveling overseas, but the source of the remaining third has long been a mystery. Where did these patients, most of them from Texas and Louisiana, catch leprosy?

Research published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine points strongly to an unlikely source — the armadillo…

This discovery has led some to compare leprosy to other infectious diseases that leaped from animals to humans. Many speculate that flu came from water fowl, and it’s pretty well-established that HIV came from chimpanzees. But with leprosy, the opposite is true. We infected them.

Truman says there was no leprosy in the New World until European settlers arrived. Somehow armadillos contracted the disease, and now about 15 percent of armadillos carry it…

The more likely path to infection is by noshing on armadillo. “People become infected because of direct contact with raw armadillo flesh that has been butchered in some way or another,” he says.

In Texas and other southern states, barbecued armadillo and armadillo chili are folk favorites. Avoiding handling and consuming armadillo meat will drastically reduce the already small risk posed by armadillos, Truman says.

I hope those of you inclined to eat armadillo – road kill or otherwise – will be careful.

  1. deowll says:

    Part of this is very old news if you were reading science journals some years back. On the other hand it appears that you can contract the disease if they have been using your yard to forage.

    I live in Southern TN and the critters dig for grubs in my yard. I don’t see them but I find the holes where they have dug up grubs during the night. I would think they also defecate and urinate in my yard which seems to be the only explanation for how at least one woman got the disease. Most people don’t eat these animals.

    Two more observations:

    Because of the low body temp and bare tail it would not shock me to learn that an opossum could contract the disease.

    Nobody has mentioned mosquitoes or other blood suckers as a possible victor but you have to know that at least in theory it could happen.

  2. bobbo, the evangelical anti-theist says:

    I hear a cure is to have sex with a 12 yo virgin.

  3. rabidmonkey says:

    MEH, I used to really like this blog until more mundane stuff started coming through the pike. AUUGH! GIMMEE more politically biased clap-trap and then I might consider re-visiting this blog. As it is now I could see this crap on “youtube” by simply searching the term: “stupid crap people upload to the internet.” I am almost done with this blog if it doesn’t shape up, or else it might as well ship out.

  4. rabidmonkey says:

    the rabidmonkey does not approve of the stupid crap John C. Dvorak’s cohorts think is worthy of his perusal.

  5. rabidmonkey says:

    this blog is not serious enough anymore…. EGAD’s!

  6. rabidmonkey says:

    “EGAD’s”, now that is a term I have not heard of since, oh before you were born…I remember the year as if I were back in time…yes..it was Nov. 5th 1955. It was a red-letter date indeed. I was just a wee lad not yet even 9-years born yet. It was a time of great upheaval. My bowels had not settled by then. We had not yet landed on the moon and yet countless TV shows made such a promise. I remember it was as if yesterday. It was that fateful day the martians landed on our fragile planet and made us all our slaves. . . . etc…the diatribe could continue but I haven’t the resources to meander onward…thank gawrsh!

  7. keaneo says:


  8. rabidmonkey says:

    wait, I meant 19 years instead of 9 years… my math sucks SO early in the morning.

  9. rabidmonkey says:

    math sucks before caffeine kicks-in

  10. rabidmonkey says:

    ADHD? “Awesome Diametrically Opposed Disparity”

  11. rabidmonkey says:

    wait: “Awesome Diametrically Hap-tic Disposition.”

  12. Dallas says:

    Armadillos are cool! Look like they’re ready for a gladiator battle.

  13. nightstar says:

    Great article, so well written. I like this particular bit the best “Many speculate that flu came from water fowl, and it’s pretty well-established that HIV came from chimpanzees.”

    With such propositions one need not offer proofs.

  14. chuck says:

    #2 – where are you going to find a 12 yr old virgin in Texas or Louisiana?

  15. Suntan says:

    I smell a vaccine on the way 🙂

  16. dusanmal says:

    One fundamental error in the article: It have been long assumed that leprosy have been brought over to the “New World”. Many diseases were, but there is a lot of research documenting widespread leprosy in the tropical belt of “New World” well before European contact. Physical, archeological, written documentation. Should be well known by now.
    Having that in mind, armadillos may have been the “original” source.

  17. Why blame the poor Armadillos
    Don’t they have a right to live too
    On top of that their biggest danger is the speeding and reckless cars that run them over carelessly at high speeds on roads and highways
    Why not blame car drivers and ban cars and trucks on the roads in Armadillo speed zones
    Have a heart for the poor little guys just out minding their own business

  18. Gary, the dangerous infidel says:

    I’ve always thought that armadillos look sinister, like they have something to hide. Now I know why.

    Just say ‘no’ to barbecued armadillo, kids, or the curse of the armadillo will be upon thee!

  19. sargasso_c says:

    Domestic cats and dogs will make contact with armadillos and carry the bacteria home?

  20. chris says:

    The snack that bites back.

  21. deowll says:

    #19 I don’t think a domestic cat would bother one because they are about the same size. Large dogs can kill them. Maybe they could spread the organism around but they don’t get the disease and neither do cats.

  22. Animby - just phoning it in says:

    #1 deowll – No, mosquitoes are NOT a vector. Nor ‘possums. I’m not sure about armadillo crap and I’m too tired to look it right now. But I don’t think so. In any case, leprosy needs frequent prolonged contact with the bacteria in order to overcome the immune system. I’ve treated many of them in S America, Africa and SE Asia. Takes months of treatment but is completely curable. The trick is to identify it before it becomes disfiguring.

    As for ‘dilloes. We’ve known for decades they were a vector and, in fact, for a long time the only way to culture the bugs was in their footpads. Contrary to the article referenced, you can NOT contract the disease by eating the cooked flesh. It’s the people who handle the raw meat who are at risk.

    So, next time I’m in Texas, I think I’ll just go ahead and have me some BBQed ‘dillo on a stick. Mmmmm.

    Pedro – calm down. I did not say dildo. BTW, Armadilloes are generally peaceful little critters. I knew people in Texas who kept them as pets. Not real smart. The keepers not the ‘dilloes. Dallas? How many you got now?

  23. Bertb says:

    There is a (minor) followup on this story in the NYT.

    It suggests that scientists gave the Armadillo’s a “especially virulent form of leprosy” somewhere in the late nineteen fifties.

    Now I really am getting paranoid.

  24. bobbo, the evangelical anti-theist says:

    Every Texan I’ve ever met that had Armadillo Cowboy Boots also had hemorrhoids. Could be a connection there too.

  25. Gary, the dangerous infidel says:

    #24 Bobbo, there must be a story in there somewhere, about a cowboy from Amarillo with armadillo boots and a case of hemorrhoids from a long, hot ride on the dusty trail, but it’d make a better country song than a scientific study 😉

  26. msbpodcast says:

    In #24 bobbo, the evangelical anti-theist said: Every Texan I’ve ever met that had Armadillo Cowboy Boots also had hemorrhoids.

    That’s just ’cause they’re all pains in the ass.

    And I should know. I’m related to a few.

  27. Mick Hamblen says:

    I seem to remember a story about a Texas football player who got tackled where a armadillo did it’s business and got leprosy. Not good….

  28. Animby - just phoning it in says:

    # 27 Mick Hamblen said, “Not good….” And probably not true. You just don’t get this disease from on isolated exposure. And, it takes so (SO) long to develop, it would be very difficult, if not impossible. to track down any any causative exposures.

  29. bobbo, are we Men of Science, or Amadillo Shit Boot wearing Texans says:

    #28–Animby, a man of science who has forgotten his own humanity==and yet who among us would ever forget falling into a pile of Armadillo shit. “Seemed like an eternity, and I couldn’t get the Texas off me for weeks.” It wouldn’t matter how long later it was if asked: “Have you ever been in contact with Armadillo Shit?” to recall that tramatisation. Animby–did you see the video on the S from Hell? We are talking Armadillo Shit here. Shit. Get it? Starts with an S==from Texas!

    As to your typical “medical judgment” that fits everyone into the same pair of boots, surely there are statistical outliers ((Ohhh, THAT reminds me of something else about Texans)) for every hooman attribute and SENSITIVITY. People that wear Armadillo Shit Boots tend to wear them all the time, even to bed.

    Animby–this morbidity profile of yours has become dogma. Its almost like you are wearing a pair of boots yourself. Jungle rot. Hopefully it will clear up on your next location to a drier clime?

  30. Anonymous says:

    #13 – It’s from NPR, your national treasure, so there’s no need for sourcing.


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