Part Two of the Armadillo Conundrum…About That Leprosy/Spitting Thing

Reader Contribution by Linda And Burt Crume
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Yes, it appears that the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus Novemcinctus) found in North America carries the virus for leprosy, which is also known as Hansen’s disease. According to a March 2015, article in “Smart Talk,” which is a Smithsonian publication, armadillos are the only mammals besides humans that can host the leprosy bacillus. The New England Journal of Medicine said the Leprosy/Hansen’s virus in humans and armadillos is identical.

The only way for the disease to be transmitted is by handling an armadillo or ingesting the flesh…well, I don’t anticipate armadillo linguini or burgers on my diet anytime soon. No concern about the disease until I read that armadillos could spit and spread the virus that way? The headline in a Newsweek article from July 2015 screamed, Spitting Armadillos Blamed for Florida’s Emerging Leprosy Problem!  It seems that the normally very placid armadillo loses its cool when confronted by what it considers to be a threat. It rears up on its back legs and hisses…and maybe spits? This can be a problem for many people who trap and relocate armadillos. My live trap is 14-by-14-by-24 inches.  When I approach the trapped armadillo, my trap prevents them from standing on their hind legs, but does not stop them from hissing and possibly spitting at me. A scary scenario considering the disease can lay dormant for 25 years and more, according to the Smithsonian publication.

However, in a National Public radio story from July 2015, Leprosy from an Armadillo? That’s an Unlikely Peccadillo, NPR’s Nancy Shute said she’d contacted Dr. Richard Truman, acting chief of the laboratory research branch of the National Hansen’s Disease Program in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. According to Ms. Shute, he’s authored 31 articles on armadillos and leprosy, and uses armadillos to study the disease. The comforting words from Dr. Truman are that 95 percent of humans are completely immune, because of genetics. He says, “All wild animals can harbor infectious agents that are harmful to people. If we leave animals alone and exercise caution they don’t pose a risk to us.”   Maybe Dr. Truman should chat with the armadillos that tear up my yard and garden like hungry pigs shoving their snouts through buckets of curdled milk and hammered corn.

So, only 5 percent of humans are not immune to leprosy, according to Dr. Truman of Baton Rouge, and not all armadillos carry the Leprosy bacteria, according to Stephanie S. Smith, PhD, and writer for “Information Central Blog.” Dr. Smith says only 15 percent of armadillos carry the disease, making it more unlikely any of us will get the disease…if we stay away from these roly-poly animals.

But, staying away from armadillos, and all other wild animals, is increasingly difficult in the South. The encroachment from new housing construction, new commercial ventures, and the general spread of human populations leads to more and more conflict between wildlife and humans. In the past four years of living at the end of the road surrounded by water and forest, we’ve encountered 20 armadillos, six raccoons, two nutrias, eleven opossums, and a dozen or so bald eagles using our backyard trees to sight fish on the lake. I don’t even try to count the deer. In the next few weeks, I will address in more detail varying ideas and attitudes related to living among wildlife and removing those we don’t want.

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