Leprosy Transmission from Animals to Humans: An Overview

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a chronic infectious disease primarily affecting the skin and peripheral nerves. While human-to-human transmission is the primary mode of transmission, there is evidence suggesting that animals can also serve as reservoirs and sources of infection for leprosy.

Key Facts

  1. Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, can be transmitted from animals to humans.
  2. Armadillos have been identified as a potential source of leprosy transmission to humans. In certain regions, such as the southern United States and Brazil, contact with wild armadillos has been linked to high infection rates of the bacteria that causes leprosy.[3]
  3. The bacteria responsible for leprosy is called Mycobacterium leprae. It can cause chronic skin lesions and nerve damage in humans.
  4. Studies have shown that human contact with armadillos, including eating their meat, can contribute to the transmission of leprosy.
  5. In some leprosy-endemic areas, such as Texas and Louisiana, there is evidence that armadillos play a role in the epidemiology of leprosy in humans.
  6. It is important to note that leprosy transmission from animals to humans is relatively rare. The majority of leprosy cases are transmitted through prolonged close contact with an infected person.

Armadillos as a Source of Leprosy Transmission

Armadillos have been identified as a potential source of leprosy transmission to humans. Studies conducted in the southern United States, particularly in Texas and Louisiana, have demonstrated a link between contact with wild armadillos and high infection rates of Mycobacterium leprae, the bacteria that causes leprosy. In these regions, individuals who hunt, kill, or consume armadillo meat have been found to be at an increased risk of acquiring leprosy.

Evidence of Zoonotic Transmission

Research conducted in Brazil has further supported the role of armadillos in leprosy transmission. A study involving individuals living in the Pará state of Brazil revealed that those who had contact with armadillos, either through hunting, handling, or consuming their meat, had a higher prevalence of leprosy antibodies compared to those with no contact with armadillos. Additionally, the study found that individuals who consumed armadillo meat more frequently had a significantly higher antibody response, indicating a potential dose-dependent relationship between armadillo meat consumption and leprosy infection.

Other Potential Animal Reservoirs

While armadillos have been extensively studied as a source of leprosy transmission, other animals may also harbor and transmit the bacteria. Studies have identified leprosy infection in mangabey monkeys and chimpanzees in West Africa, suggesting the potential for enzootic leprosy in these regions. Further research is warranted to investigate the role of these and other animal species in the epidemiology of leprosy.


The transmission of leprosy from animals to humans, though relatively rare, is a significant public health concern, particularly in areas where leprosy is endemic. Armadillos have been identified as a primary source of zoonotic leprosy transmission, with evidence suggesting that contact with these animals, especially through hunting and consumption of their meat, can increase the risk of infection. Further research is needed to explore the role of other animal species as potential reservoirs of leprosy and to develop effective strategies for preventing zoonotic transmission.


  1. Leprosy and animals. (n.d.). The Leprosy Mission International. https://www.leprosymission.org/what-is-leprosy/leprosy-and-animals/
  2. Meyers, W. M., Gormus, B. J., & Walsh, G. P. (1992). Nonhuman sources of leprosy. International Journal of Leprosy and Other Mycobacterial Diseases, 60(3), 477-480. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1474287/
  3. New evidence that wild armadillos spread leprosy to humans. (2018, June 29). Colorado State University. https://cvmbs.source.colostate.edu/new-evidence-that-wild-armadillos-spread-leprosy-to-humans/


Can you get leprosy from animals?

Yes, it is possible to get leprosy from animals, although it is relatively rare.

Which animals can transmit leprosy to humans?

Armadillos have been identified as the primary animal reservoir of leprosy that can transmit the infection to humans. Other animals, such as mangabey monkeys and chimpanzees, have also been found to carry the leprosy bacteria, but their role in transmission to humans is less well-established.

How is leprosy transmitted from animals to humans?

Transmission from animals to humans can occur through direct contact with an infected animal or its bodily fluids, or through the consumption of contaminated animal meat.

What are the symptoms of leprosy?

Leprosy typically manifests as skin lesions, nerve damage, and loss of sensation in the affected areas.

Who is at risk of getting leprosy from animals?

Individuals who have close contact with armadillos or other potential animal reservoirs, such as hunters, trappers, and individuals who consume armadillo meat, are at an increased risk of acquiring leprosy.

What should you do if you think you have been exposed to leprosy?

If you have had contact with an armadillo or other potential animal reservoir of leprosy, or if you have symptoms suggestive of leprosy, it is important to seek medical attention promptly for evaluation and treatment.

How is leprosy treated?

Leprosy is treated with antibiotics, typically a combination of drugs taken for a period of 6 to 12 months. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to prevent complications and permanent nerve damage.

How can you prevent getting leprosy from animals?

To reduce the risk of acquiring leprosy from animals, it is important to avoid contact with armadillos and other potential animal reservoirs, to wear protective clothing and gloves when handling animal carcasses, and to cook animal meat thoroughly before consumption.