British red squirrels are being afflicted by a medieval strain of leprosy that was thought to have disappeared from Europe over 700 years ago, according to a new DNA analysis. Researchers say the chances of the dreaded disease spreading to humans is low, but the discovery suggests this strain of leprosy has been lingering for quite some time.AdvertisementA DNA analysis performed by researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) has shown that leprosy in Britain's red squirrels is being caused by the same species of bacteria responsible for human infections. Human cases of leprosy are practically unheard of in Britain, but scientists say the red squirrels could be a source for the bacteria in the UK, frustrating attempts to eradicate the disease.
This news comes at a particularly challenging time for the British red squirrel. Their numbers have drastically declined in the UK over the past few years, and only 140,00 remain. These creatures are being threatened from habitat loss and the squirrelpox virus carried by invasive grey squirrels.