Leprosy is an infectious disease of the skin and nerves that, if left untreated, can lead to deformities and blindness. The origin of the infection in the monkeys is not yet clear. Scientists suspect that the chimpanzees contracted leprosy through contact with humans. But that needs to be further investigated. Research shows that the strains are different and unusual in humans. It is also still unclear whether this form can jump from apes to humans.
Ⓒ Kimberley Hockings Twitter
Although the origin of the infections is unclear, scientists suspect that the disease circulates among other wildlife. The animals can contract the disease through exposure to humans, but the bacteria can also spread from another mammal, such as a nine-banded armadillo and red squirrel.
“The symptoms are strikingly similar to those of people with leprosy,” said study leader Kimberley Hockings of the chimpanzees. “There are lesions over the skin and a claw hand develops.”
It is the first time that the disease has been discovered in wild chimpanzees, although there are known cases of chimpanzees being infected in captivity.
Leprosy is easy to treat in humans with drugs, but the impact of the disease on chimpanzees is difficult to predict, researchers said.
Ⓒ Tai Chimpanzee Project