A Swiss-American joint study has shown that a new strain of leprosy has emerged in the United States through human contact with armadillos.
The team used advanced DNA analysis and field work to confirm the link to armadillos, the only other known carriers of the disease.
The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday.
While there are only around 150 cases of leprosy in the US annually, most victims have worked abroad in areas where the disease is endemic. But the study showed half of patients had never travelled abroad and appeared to pick up the disease locally from areas with infected armadillos.
For the research 33 wild armadillos and 50 leprosy patients were tested. The researchers concluded that “frequent direct contact with armadillos and cooking and consumption of armadillo meat should be discouraged". The study also suggests that armadillo movements should be monitored.