Leprosy Confirmed for First Time in Wild Chimpanzees

Leprosy has been found in wild chimpanzees for the first time, a new study reveals. Researchers have confirmed cases of the disease among two unconnected West African populations of chimpanzees, in Guinea-Bissau and the Ivory Coast. Analysis published online on October 13, 2021 in Nature shows the strains of leprosy are different, and both are uncommon among humans. The open-access Nature article is titled “Leprosy in Wild Chimpanzees.” The origins of the infections are unclear, but the research team--led by scientists at the University of Exeter (UK) and the Robert Koch Institute (Germany)--says the findings show leprosy is probably circulating in more wild animals than was previously suspected, either as a result of exposure to humans or other unknown environmental sources. Humans are considered the main host for Mycobacterium leprae bacteria, which cause leprosy, but "spill-over" to other mammals, such as nine-banded armadillos and red squirrels, is known to occur.

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