Leprosy bacteria lurking in British squirrels: researchers warn

Leprosy bacteria lurking in British squirrels: researchers warn

Leprosy virtually vanished from Europe in around the 16th century, and Great Britain has not had a case in the past many centuries. But, those who believe that the disease is gone forever may be wrong.

A team of biologists have warned that the disease of leprosy never left the region as the devastating bacteria still lurking in trees. Mysterious marks/sores on red squirrels across England, Scotland and Ireland have been linked to the disease.

Stewart Cole, the directors of the Global Health Institute at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, warned that red squirrels across the country have leprosy bacteria, and some squirrels are even showing leprosy signs like damage to nerve endings and swelling in eyes, snouts and ears.

One version of the devastating bacteria detected in red squirrels closely matched the leprosy bacteria discovered in the skeletal remains of some people who were buried roughly 730 years ago in Winchester, England.

Speaking on the topic, Cole said, "That for me was a real gobsmacker. The very same strain that would cause disease in humans back in the Middle Ages was still present in the squirrels. That's awesome."

Caused by a bacillus, called Mycobacterium leprae, leprosy is a chronic disease with symptoms like red or pale skin lesions, reduced sensation and numbness. Treatment is mainly antibiotics, and early treatment avoids further complications such as disability.

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