Although leprosy we usually associated with the Middle Ages, a team of scientists from Great Britain has discovered that some red squirrels from England might carry the harrowing disease.
The study began when scientists wanted to find out why the red squirrel population from Scotland has diminished in the last two decades. After analyzing more than 20 roadkill specimen and live ones, the team of researchers from the University of Edinburgh has reached a baffling conclusion: each of them carried a form of human leprosy.
However, the team assured the general public that the risk of infection is minimal since red squirrels are shy critters, which usually stay away from humans.
After closely analyzing several tissue samples harvested from roadkill, the scientists determined that some of the carried the Mycobacterium leprae variant, while other had the more severe Mycobacterium lepromatosis.
Often regarded as the sloth of bacteria, the Mycobacterium leprae has a period of incubation of approximately five years. However, in some cases, it may take as long as 20 years for the patient to exhibit the initial symptoms of leprosy.
Although the disease flourished during the Middle Ages, killing hundreds of thousands, today the conditional is treatable, but the road to recovery is long and strenuous. The treatment for leprosy was developed back in the early ‘40s, and it bears the name of MDT (multidrug therapy).
In essence, this means that a patient with leprosy will receive a cocktail consisting of broad-spectrum antibiotics such as dapsone, rifampicin, and clofazimine. But, as we pointed out, the treatment is lengthy, but it has great chances of success.
Now, the symptoms associated with leprosy are as follows:
- Pale-colored skin sores.
- Eye-related issues.
- Loss of feeling in arms and legs.
- Muscle weakness.
- Thick or dry skin.
- Stuffy nose.
- Ulcers on feet.
The scientists who have identified this issue cautions all rangers to wear protective gloves when handling red squirrels in order to minimize the risk of transmission. T
Furthermore, they’ve also explained that one of the reasons why the rate of transmission was so high back in the Middle Ages was that people regarded red squirrels as a culinary delicacy and used their thick and reddish fur in order to create garments.
For now, the scientists are looking for a way to contain the disease and to stop it from spreading to other red squirrels.
Image source: Wikipedia