Leper hand bones. “Your wrist bone’s connected to your, well, let’s just stop there”

leper man

Actual leper, despite looking just like those holographic Halloween pictures.

by Chelsea Schuyler

Lepers Still Roam

Happy Halloween! This year I bring you leprosy. Because the deadening of hands and feet while simultaneously turning into a molting lizard just feels right this time of year.

Though we cringe, we can’t help but be fascinated – how can you slough off bits of yourself and still live to tell the tale?

To be fair, you really don’t. Nothing falls off of you, you just get scaley,.. and suffer nerve damage and deformities, ..and get a fever and angry inflammation of the skin, eyes, and joints. And you know that’s bad, cuz inflammation isn’t exactly known for general contentment. Scientists, you had me at ‘angry’…

Finger-lickin good!

Finger-lickin good!

That’s IF you don’t treat it, which is easy (except that it takes 6-24 months).

Despite 95% of humanity being immune, people here in the states STILL contract it – about a hundred a year. Though now it’s called Hansen’s disease to avoid stigma (because WHO GETS LEPROSY THESE DAYS?) and to pay awkward tribute to the man who discovered the bacterium in 1873.

Where are these victims? The South of course, because all evil originates in swamps, so if you’re not too busy being riddled with Yellow Fever or birthing tiny-headed offspring which are later eaten by alligators at Disneyland, you might notice your hands have turned into leprotic finger nubbins.

You Two Have So Much in Common

armadillo

Actual armadillo I followed in the Barataria Preserve off New Orleans, Louisiana. It’s so blind and the leaves it was pawing in so loud it couldn’t detect me – I even pet it once or twice!

Said swamp contains the only other creature susceptible to the disease. Mosquitoes? You’d think, but no.

arthur tv show

Arthur, no!

Armadillos.

Those adorable living-dinosaur pinecones?! Why??

Note: Only the nine-banded armadillo is known to carry the disease. So the next time you’re hugging your neighborhood armadillo, count the bands just to make sure. But be subtle about it, no need to insult the thing.

armadillo

Yep, 9 bands. = I have leprosy.

The bacteria that causes leprosy is incredibly weak and pathetic (yet takes 2 years to kill??), and can only live in things with a low internal body temperature. Which feels somewhat ironic that a creature that grows its own protective ninja-shield has a War of the Worlds Achile’s heel of a tepid temperature and breezy bowels.

But don’t go hatin’ on armadillos, it’s not their fault. Originally, we gave it to them.

cat sleepling in

Cuddle warming is real!

(How is the human 98.6 degrees considered low, you ask? Spend a few years putting thermometers in dog and cat anuses like I have – and you’ll discover their norm is 102. It makes a difference – hence them being so nice to cuddle up to in winter.)

History of Leprosy

Prevalent in India back in the day, leprosy victims were sometimes assisted by families to suicide, which was considered an exception to the suicide-is-a-sin rule in Hinduism.

leper-colony-members

Leper colony members no doubt about to pounce on each other

As the English Christians strutted in, they saw a disease of Biblical proportions, and sent WTF?! notes back to Britain. Answering to the fears for the motherland, the colonial government isolated those diagnosed in 1898, separating men from women. Because leper reproduction – so hot.

Even the US had a leper colony – on some gorgeous peninsula in Hawaii. Reason enough to contract it I say. Wait, so, we sent the Native Americans to dry, desolate wastelands but the lepers get a tropical paradise? I’ll say it now and I’ll say it again, lepers have all the luck.

Many depressing decades later, we figured out a nice multi-drug therapy, which the WHO still offers for free. So when you remember the 80s, know that you were either:

the fly

The Fly: ‘Woops! An error occurred.’ ‘404, this animal not found.’ And other coding jokes…’

  • An unaffected leper gentile (leptile?) flocking in droves to watch Jeff Goldblum turn into a fly, which, let’s face it, was symptomatically a case of extreme leprosy rather than anything fly-related.
  • Minding your own business in your transport pod where, unbeknownst to you, an armadillo was present, and now you’re turning into one, scales and all. But huzzah, there’s a cure!

However, leprosy still affects people in India, especially due to poverty (compromised immune system), deeply ingrained stigma, and a hesitance toward Western medicine.

This despite Gandhi, who never ceases to be awesome, who took in a scholar outcast with leprosy, and massaged his feet daily. Someone took a picture, and it became a stamp that said ‘Leprosy is Curable’ to try to educate the world.

Mahatma Gandhi nursing the leper patient Parchure Shastri, Sevagram Ashram, 1939. Mahatma Gandhi bei der Behandlung des Lepra-Patienten Parchure Shastri im Sevagram-Aschram, 1939.

Leprosy continues despite Ghandi.

Yeah, yeah, somethin about millions of humans. What about the armadillos??

But Back to Armadillos

pink fairy armadillo

This 5-6″, adorable meme wannabe is leprosy-free. You can just tell.

Luckily the rare pink fairy armadillo – which amazingly is totally a thing, yet so rare  that even internet videos of it are just desperate image montages – remains unaffected, as it only lives in a tiny section of Argentina, dies quickly in captivity, and therefore is effectively the unicorn of armadillos. And as everyone knows, unicorns are pretty and therefore leprosy-free.

CBS reported a study done on the link between armadillos and leprosy, in which they quoted the lead researcher saying “Leave the animals alone.”

Let's definitely ask a continent that doesn't have armadillos their opinion.

Let’s definitely ask a continent that doesn’t have armadillos their opinion.

Sure, makes sense, but then they quoted Dr. Warwick Britton of Sydney, Australia, “who had no connection with the study”, as saying: “I would not cuddle armadillos.”

So basically, CBS was like, ‘Who else can we quote? Someone funny. I know, call Australia.’

And note that it doesn’t say why Dr. Warwick Britton (a name that just screams ‘formerly British’) wouldn’t cuddle armadillos. Maybe it doesn’t have to do with leprosy. People generally don’t want to cuddle things with ‘armor’ literally in the name. Or maybe he’s a cuddle warming denier.

glyptodon

Ridiculously giant glyptodon, terrorizer of early humans and assumed inspiration for Mario’s ‘buzzy beetle’ villains.

Or perhaps it’s because he knows they’re descended from the uncuddable Glyptodon, an animal from the ice age the size of friggin car. Concluding that all ancestors were giant and terrifying and haunt us even today in smaller, cuter, bacteria-ridden form.

So, Happy Halloween everyone! Especially the South and subsequently Hawaii.

Photos are in the public domain except:
Leper bones – photo by B.jehle, CC BY 4.0
Leper fingers – photo by B.jehle, CC BY 3.0
Armadillo in leaves 1 and 2 – taken by me
Pink Armadillo – photo by CC BY 2.0

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