Sunday, May 15, 2011


Several years ago friends moved to Texas from Germany and embraced everything western. They found a dead armadillo beside the road and had him stuffed for their fireplace mantle. When I mentioned that armadillos carry leprosy, our friends pooh-poohed my comments.

When my multi-published author friend, Dee Stuart, wrote her book targeted at elementary aged children, THE ASTONISHING ARMADILLO, she investigated rumors about leprosy to no avail. Her book is excellent, and is found in many school and public libraries. Click on the title to buy the book from Amazon.

Back in the stone age, I worked for a dermatologist in Dallas. I remember the horror facing a successful young businessman when he learned he had advanced leprosy and would be forced to move to the leper colony in Louisiana. Fortunately, since the 1980's, multi-drug therapies eliminated confinement to leper colonies in the United States. Still the disease exists and causes major health problems, especially when caught late. There are over 1,000 leper colonies still operating in India, and other countries with colonies include China, Romania, Nepal, Somalia, Liberia, Vietnam, and Japan. Those who are Jewish or Christian remember mention of leprosy in the Bible. Leprosy has been around for at least four thousand years and is also documented in ancient Chinese texts.

Please don't go out gunnin' for armadillos. I'm sure God put the little critters on earth for a reason. In fact, I'm sure there's a reason for everything, even mice, rats, and fire ants...although I detest those three groups of pests. But I digress. 

Now that gardening season has us out enjoying our flowers and lawns, I wanted to issue a warning. Better safe than sorry! Here's the column regarding armadillos and leprosy from the "Information Central Blog:"

Pesky little armadillo looks very prehistoric

Armadillos Carry Leprosy

by Stephanie Suesan Smith, PhD 

There was a time when a major beer manufacturer ran a series of commercials where a giant armadillo hijacked a truck carrying the beer and then laid on its back cradling the bottle while guzzling the contents. Those commercials spawned a cottage industry in killing and stuffing armadillos, then putting an empty beer bottle in their little paws and selling them as souvenir. A new study in the NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE suggests that handling armadillos is a mistake.

Leprosy is a rare disease in the United States. It is caused by a bateria and armadillos are the only creatures besides humans known to carry the bacteria. It doesn’t seem to bother the armadillos, but it will cause major problems for the human who gets it. Usually, the first sign is a skin rash that is often dismissed by both the victim and their doctor as an unspecified allergic reaction to something. If treated aggressively at this stage, however, leprosy, also known as Hansen’s Disease, is curable.

Once the bateria sets up housekeeping in the nervous system, it is a chronic disease causing some pretty terrible symptoms. In medieval times, victims of leprosy were outcasts, herded together in remote colonies to await death as the bacteria ate away at the extremities and face from within. Medication can now control the worst of the symptoms, but it is not something you want to get.

Sadly, up to 15 percent of armidillos are infected in some places, such as Texas, where I live. Worse, since they dig in gardens to reach insects, you run some risk of getting infected from digging in the same spot. How many of us have replaced plants and moved earth back where it belongs after an armadillo attack without thought? Next time, I will use a trowel and wear gloves that can be washed in bleach after use to handle that situation.

It is illegal in Texas to have a live armadillo, or to trap them and let them go on someone else’s land. About all you can do is avoid them. If you are in the country, trapping and shooting them is an option. In town, a pest control person can humanely dispose of them for you. You can put a four foot barrier of welded wire fencing around your flower beds to keep them out, too.

For more help gardening, buy my book, “PREPARING A VEGETABLE GARDEN FROM THE GROUND UP.” Available in print or ebook, this book walks you from choosing the site of your garden all the way through what to do after the harvest. Buy a copy for yourself or a friend today!

Thanks to Stephanie for letting me post her May 10 blog today. Remember, wear those gloves when you're working in the dirt, and don't scratch your skin with them.

Please return on May 18th/19th for and interview with author, Amber Scott. In the meantime, enjoy spring at your place.

1 comment:

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