To Avoid Leprosy, Stop Playing With Armadillos
Wild ones can transmit disease to humans
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 27, 2011 6:39 PM CDT
This photo picture made available by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department shows a nine-banded armadillo.   (AP Photo/Texas Parks and Wildlife, Chase A. Fountain)

(Newser) – Weird health advice of the day: Too much direct contact with armadillos—as in handling or eating them—can cause leprosy. Scientists for the first time have concluded that the animals can spread the disease to humans, reports the Los Angeles Times. The finding helps explain how some of the approximately 150 patients who get the disease each year in the US contract it even if they haven't traveled to a country where it's more common. Texas and Louisiana will do just fine.

Researchers have known for a while that nine-banded armadillos are natural hosts for the bacteria that causes the disease, but they haven't until now been able to see a genetic match with strains in humans. The good news: It would take repeated and prolonged contact to get the disease, and even then the days of leper colonies are long gone—it's easily treatable. "This is a wimp of an organism," says one of the Baton Rouge researchers.