For the first time, wild chimpanzees have been found to be infected with leprosy in two locations in West Africa quite distant from each other. Experts discovered two wild chimp populations, in Guinea-Bissau's Cantanhez National Park and Taï National Park in Ivory Coast which was infected with the disease. It was confirmed with their faecal samples. Leprosy once affected millions of humans with the sick being isolated from civilisation. The disease is caused by mycobacterium leprae, a species of bacteria. It causes skin lesions and, if left untreated can result in nerve damage resulting in crippling of hands and feet, paralysis, blindness and loss of body parts. In 2012, the number of chronic cases of leprosy in humans was 189,000, from 5.2 million in the 1980s. India accounted for more than half of all cases. World Leprosy Day 2020: Dealing With the Stigma of the Disfiguring Disease.

Since the 1980s, it was controlled using antibiotics and was believed to have been wiped out from the animal kingdom. However, in the last two years, the disease has been found in red squirrels in the UK and armadillos in the Americas. Experts believe that the infected chimps are unlikely to have got the disease from infected humans. Researchers are indicating an unknown source of leprosy in the wild. At the moment, the infected chimpanzee is coping with the disease, however, one of them is losing weight. World Leprosy Day 2020: What Is Leprosy? Know More About the Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of Hansen’s Disease.

Conservation scientist Dr Kimberley Hockings at the University of Exeter and wildlife veterinarian Dr Fabian Leendertz from Robert Koch Institute, Germany are among the authors of the pre-print of the findings. Dr Hockings told MailOnline, "There are at least four chimpanzees among three different communities in Cantanhez National Park, Guinea-Bissau, that have severe leprosy. In Tai National Park in the Ivory Coast, leprosy has only been detected in one chimpanzee community and did not seem to spread to neighbouring communities. Leprosy is very easy to treat in humans, but administering antibiotics to wild unhabituated chimpanzees would be a real challenge."

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Nov 13, 2020 10:34 AM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website