Leprosy was thought to have already died out in the UK in medieval period. Recent studies lead to a discovery and confirmation that UK red squirrels carry the disease.
The research published in the journal Science
notes that the UK red squirrels carries two bacterium strains.
Warts and tags found on the red squirrels' ears, snouts and limbs lead them to discover the two-leprosy causing organisms, mycobacterium leprae
and mycobacterium lepromatosis
The two leprosy strains were once endemic to humans in the medieval times. Mycobacterium leprae were found in Brownsea Island squirrels. Mycobacterium lepromatosis infected squirrels in Ireland, Scotland and England.
Dr Rachael Tarlinton from the University of Nottingham
who is not involved in the research made her observation. She said, "It's still quite puzzling as to why some [squirrels] have one species and not the other and why this differs in different sites."
The red squirrel is considered an endangered species. It is found across Eurasia.
Prof Anna Meredith and her team from the University of Edinburgh wanted to find out the possibility if the red squirrels were the carrier of the leprosy in medieval times or were they only infected by the leprosy strain from that time.
"What we're trying to tease out now is did the squirrels get leprosy from people and have just been carrying it ever since, or in fact does it work the other way round - were humans originally infected from squirrels?"
It is now a fact that these red squirrels are reservoir of this stubborn disease.