Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Armadillo stew, or, where is Father Damien when we need him?

In general, I’m quite fond of animals. And in particular, I’m quite fond of armadillos. At least in the abstract. On the cuteness scale, they rate armadillopretty darned high.

But, I was not aware, they are something of the Typhoid Mary of leprosy.

As they’ve found in Florida, where leprosy is on the increase.

Three new cases were diagnosed in Volusia County over the past five months. Officials say it's probably linked to armadillos. These adorable little armored mammals are soooooo kissable, but they also happen to carry the bacteria that can cause a leprosy infection. And here's the really distressing part – you could contract leprosy from one and not know it for years, because symptoms can take up to 10 years to show up after infection. (Source: Orlando Sentinel)

Well, even before I knew that armadillos were leprosy carriers, I don’t know about armadillos being kissable. They’re not exactly dogs.

But it is good to have an update on leprosy, given that most of what I know about this potentially dreadful disease was gleaned from Ben Hur – remember when Ben Hur’s mother and sister contracted leprosy, turned grotesque, and had to go live in a cave?. And from reading about Father Damien – now a saint – in a Vision Book (a series for Catholic kids) about his life caring for lepers in Hawaii.

Other than Hawaii – with the Damien connection – the only other state I associate with leprosy is Louisiana, where the Carville Leprosarium was located. (How I know this, I haven’t a clue. Other than that it’s the kind of thing that people used to know as a matter of course.)

Who knew that Florida had lepers, too?

(I didn’t want to be too uppity-snobby here. Massachusetts used to have a leper colony on an island in Buzzard’s Bay, near where my cousin Barbara has a summer home. When Carville closed down, our lepers were transferred there. Leprosy is rarely diagnosed in Massachusetts – or in any cold-weather state, for that matter – and, when it is, it’s found in immigrants.)

Two of the three infected Volusia County patients said they had "close contact" with armadillos, which people sometimes catch and eat. They're known to some as possum on the half-shell (shudder), poor-man's pig or Hoover hogs, because people started eating them during the Depression when many people couldn't afford to buy traditional meats.

Catch and eat, eh?

Sometimes I’m just as happy to be a near-vegetarian…

Which is how I felt a few years back when I read about folks in Cajun country who ate nutria. (Never ingest an animal with teeth the color of a meld of candy-corn yellow and candy-corn orange.)

Man, how desperately poor (or carnivore) do you have to be to eat armadillo or nutria?

How fortunate we are to be able to scoot over to Whole Foods and buy pricey hamburger from grass-fed, hand-raised cattle when I have a meat jones…

The good news is that leprosy is curable (if caught in time – the leprosy, not the armadillo). And most of us are immune to it, anyway. Which is for sure a relief.

If you’re wondering how I came across an article in the Orlando Sentinel, my dirty little non-secret is that I first read about this in the Daily Mail. which is where I also learned that there are only about 100 cases reported in the US each year.

Worldwide, it remains a big deal. And where, I suspect, most cases aren’t caught in time.

One more reason to count your blessings.

The DM also reported that:

Armadillo chili and other dishes based off of the animal are eaten in southern states such as Texas.

Not living in southern states such as Texas is yet another reason to celebrate my good fortune. (Sorry Joyce, Tommy, John, and Rolf…)

Meanwhile, I read that armadillos are moving north, and may even be on their merry way to Cape Cod.

May need to rebuild that leper hospital on Penikese Island in Buzzard’s Bay. Babs has a major lobster pot, but I don’t anticipate that she’ll be filling it with armadillo, even if they do end up being road kill in Bourne.

No comments: