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The low body temperature of armadillos is thought to contribute to their susceptibility to infection with the bacteria responsible for causing leprosy, Mycobacterium leprae. In fact, armadillos were intentionally inoculated with the bacteria in the 1960’s to allow researchers to learn more about this disease and to develop treatments. In 1975, researchers discovered wild armadillos with leprosy but transmission of the disease to humans was considered unlikely. That may be changing…
Thanks to gene typing technology, researchers have found that the genotype of the bacteria infecting humans was identical to the strain infecting armadillos in the same region of the United States. This means that the bacteria might be transmitted between animals and humans.
I used to think a pet armadillo was a pretty neat idea. After reading this study, I think I will stick to cats and dogs for pets. In fact, I have always wanted a goldfish.
National Institutes of Health Office of Science Education
Truman RW, Singh P, Sharma R, Busso P, Rougemont J, Paniz-Mondolfi A, Kapopoulou A, Brisse S, Scollard DM, Gillis TP, Cole ST. Probable zoonotic leprosy in the southern United States. N Engl J Med. 2011 Apr 28;364(17):1626-33.