Format

Send to

Choose Destination
Science. 2016 Nov 11;354(6313):744-747.

Red squirrels in the British Isles are infected with leprosy bacilli.

Author information

1
Global Health Institute, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.
2
Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh, Easter Bush Campus, Roslin, Scotland, UK.
3
Moredun Research Institute, Pentlands Science Park, Bush Loan, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.
4
Wildlife Veterinary Investigation Centre, Chacewater, Cornwall, UK.
5
School of Natural Sciences, Ryan Institute, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland.
6
UCD School of Veterinary Medicine, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin, Ireland.
7
Laboratorio Interdisciplinario de Investigación Dermatológica, Servicio de Dermatología, Hospital Universitario, Monterrey, N.L., Mexico.
8
UCD School of Medicine, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin, Ireland.
9
UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin, Ireland.
10
UCD Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin, Ireland.
11
Global Health Institute, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland. stewart.cole@epfl.ch anna.meredith@ed.ac.uk.
12
Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh, Easter Bush Campus, Roslin, Scotland, UK. stewart.cole@epfl.ch anna.meredith@ed.ac.uk.

Abstract

Leprosy, caused by infection with Mycobacterium leprae or the recently discovered Mycobacterium lepromatosis, was once endemic in humans in the British Isles. Red squirrels in Great Britain (Sciurus vulgaris) have increasingly been observed with leprosy-like lesions on the head and limbs. Using genomics, histopathology, and serology, we found M. lepromatosis in squirrels from England, Ireland, and Scotland, and M. leprae in squirrels from Brownsea Island, England. Infection was detected in overtly diseased and seemingly healthy animals. Phylogenetic comparisons of British and Irish M. lepromatosis with two Mexican strains from humans show that they diverged from a common ancestor around 27,000 years ago, whereas the M. leprae strain is closest to one that circulated in Medieval England. Red squirrels are thus a reservoir for leprosy in the British Isles.

Comment in

PMID:
27846605
DOI:
10.1126/science.aah3783
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for HighWire
Loading ...
Support Center