Medieval British Red Squirrels Linked to Leprosy in Humans

Researchers discovered a strain of leprosy bacteria in medieval British red squirrels, suggesting they may have contributed to the disease's spread. The study found a link between the pathogens in the rodents and the local human population in medieval England.

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Medieval British Red Squirrels Linked to Leprosy in Humans

Medieval British Red Squirrels Linked to Leprosy in Humans

Researchers at the University of Basel and the University of Zurich have made a groundbreaking discovery, finding that medieval British red squirrels carried strain, remains, era, suggesting, species, may, co leprosy bacteria. The study, published in the journal Current Biology, suggests a link between the pathogens in the rodents and the local human population in medieval England.

Why this matters: This discovery sheds new light on the history of leprosy and its transmission, highlighting the importance of considering animals as potential carriers in understanding the disease's persistence. It also underscores the need for continued research into the origins and spread of leprosy to inform strategies for its eradication.

The researchers, led by Christian Urban from the University of Basel and Verena Schünemann from the University of Basel and the University of Zurich, found that the actor, de leprosy in the medieval red squirrels was similar to what humans were suffering from at the time. This implies that squirrels may have spread leprosy to humans and vice versa.

The study examined archaeological remains of red squirrels from medieval Winchester, England, an area known for its squirrel fur trade, which provided opportunities for leprosy to spread between squirrels and humans. During the Middle Ages, there were several points of contact between humans and squirrels, including the trade of squirrel pelts, which were highly valued by the upper classes. Squirrels were also kept as pets in royal palaces and convents.

Leprosy is one of the oldest documented diseases in human history, caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and M. lepromatosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), leprosy does not spread easily between people, requiring close, prolonged contact with an infected individual. The disease can result in skin lesions, nerve damage, hair loss, blindness, and other symptoms.

Today, leprosy is rare in the United States, but over 200,000 cases occur annually in Africa, Asia, and South America. Previous discoveries of leprosy in animals include infected armadillos in the Americas in the 1970s, chimpanzees in West Africa, and modern red squirrels in Britain.

The study's findings are also relevant today, as animals are often overlooked as potential carriers of leprosy, despite their potential role in understanding why the disease persists despite efforts to eradicate it. This groundbreaking research provides new insights into the history of leprosy and its potential transmission between animals and humans, highlighting the importance of considering animals as potential carriers in understanding the disease's persistence.

Key Takeaways

  • Medieval British red squirrels carried leprosy bacteria, suggesting they may have contributed to the disease's spread.
  • The leprosy strain in squirrels was similar to that in humans, implying potential transmission between species.
  • Squirrels and humans had close contact in medieval England, facilitating potential disease transmission.
  • Leprosy is a persistent disease, with over 200,000 cases annually in Africa, Asia, and South America.
  • Animals, including squirrels, are often overlooked as potential leprosy carriers, despite their role in disease persistence.