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What came first the Squirrel or the Leprosy?

Scientists around the globe have been thrown for a loop at the discovery of red squirrels in the United Kingdom carrying a bacteria that was formerly thought to only infect humans and armadillos. The global initiative of the World Health Organization has been for the goal to completely eradicate Leprosy and there is an initiative dedicated to documenting all reported cases in order to find the source of transmission.


According to WHO “Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae, an acid-fast, rod-shaped bacillus.” It was thought that this disease was transmitted through skin contact and more recently found that it can also be transmitted through mucous. When an individual is infected it could take years for the disease to show its presence. Leprosy is most notably observed as affecting “the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, and the eyes.” and causes long term damage to the nervous system.


In the past health officials gave warnings to stay away from armadillos as they were known to be a carrier of the leprosy causing bacteria. According to, there are two strains of the leprosy bacterium, Scottish squirrels were found to be infected with one of these strains. What is surprising to all is that the specific strain dates back to the middle-ages when leprosy ran rampant through the population.


Today there is a cure for leprosy but even a thought of contracting the disease leaves much to be desired. The BBC pointed out that one of the biggest mysteries scientists are trying to figure out if leprosy came from humans or squirrels. “”What we’re trying to tease out now is did the squirrels get leprosy from people and have just been carrying it ever since, or in fact does it work the other way round – were humans originally infected from squirrels?”


Leprosy has been disfiguring individuals globally since biblical times. Sufferers of the disease were separated from society while doctors cut away the infected tissue in hopes of helping. This practice has left people throughout history without fingers and limbs. While science has made great strides in eliminating leprosy it has come as quite a shock that </iframe>”>squirrels have been a source of infection.


Before stocking up the pantry and boarding up the windows to keep leprosy carriers away keep in mind that leprosy is still considered a low transmission disease. These red squirrels are thought to have been carrying this disease for thousands of years and despite not knowing this the global rate of transmission drops yearly.



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