Recently, leprosy has resurfaced in Britain, Ireland, and Scotland. While rodents helped to spread the plague, leprosy is also being carried by a small animal. In this case, red squirrels seem to be carrying the disease. Although most humans are naturally immune to leprosy, people are being advised to avoid squirrels like the plague. In England, scientists discovered that the squirrels are carrying a strain of leprosy similar to the strain that swept through medieval Europe.
According to a news article, “DNA samples from 25 dead squirrels found every one was infected with the leprosy bug Mycobacterium leprae. The strain of bacteria was strikingly similar to that recovered from the skeleton of a leprosy victim buried 730 years ago in Winchester, 43 miles away. The study suggests the island’s red squirrels have been affected by leprosy for decades and perhaps centuries.” Similar to the plague, leprosy can cause physical deformities. Squirrels showed “swelling and hair loss from the ears, muzzle and feet.”
In the image we can see a group of plague victims with a few rats scattered throughout the area. They are in a public place and don’t seem to be out of place or being paid attention to. This is similar to how we see squirrels in our modern world. They are often around without us ever noticing, and could be carrying disease.
Red squirrels carrying leprosy brings awareness to the fact that although the plague is no longer a major concern, other diseases are still being spread in similar ways. It’s important that we make an effort to notice the animals that we are exposed to in our everyday life and be aware of the diseases that they could be carrying.