In a survival situation, it's well-known that food sources tend to become scarce, especially those that are popular among the masses. When grocery stores run out of meat, farm animals have all been slaughtered, and wild animals such as deer become scarce, survivalists may turn to less conventional sources of protein. Insects, rodents, oppossums, and reptiles suddenly become fair game when no other options are left.

Armadillo leprosy 3

A wood-cut illustration of an armadillo, circa 1658. Source: Wikipedia

During the Great Depression, starving families in Texas were known to hunt one particularly strange-looking creature—the armadillo. This armor-plated mammal became known as the “Hoover Hog” due to its pork-like taste and citizens' disdain for then-president Herbert Hoover. The armadillo even went on to become the state small mammal of Texas in 1995, despite being viewed as a pest by many residents.

armadillo tail

However, due to scientific advances, we now know something that we didn't back in the Great Depression. In a strange twist of biology, armadillos are the only other mammal known to carry leprosy. This disfiguring disease, also called Hansen's disease, is caused by a form of bacteria that attacks the nerves, respiratory tract, skin, and eyes.

A 2011 study by the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that “armadillos are a large natural reservoir of M. leprae [leprosy-causing bacteria]” and that “wild armadillos and many patients in the southern United States are infected with the same strain.” This finding rang true in 2015, when nine cases of the rare disease popped up in Florida, and all patients reported coming into direct contact with armadillos.

Armadillo leprosy 2

Leprosy is generally considered rare, since about 95 percent of humans are immune. Also, many experts consider the risk of contracting the disease from an armadillo to be minimal. However, as seen by the Florida incident last year, these animals certainly still pose a health risk, especially if handled without proper care or if eaten when under-cooked.

So, if you ever find yourself in a survival situation, you may want to think twice about eating an armadillo. Even though it's likely you'd remain healthy, there's still a chance this unassuming critter could infect you with one of the most infamously horrifying diseases on earth.

Nobody wants to end up as a leper, especially in a scenario where no medical treatment is available.


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