Last night and this morning, a lot of news organizations picked up the story that armadillos could spread leprosy. It turns out those slow-moving mammals that look like pointy turtles and often adorn Texas roads in pancake shape are actually carriers of a disease most of us associate with biblical times. And they can infect humans directly. Neat, right? The New England Journal of Medicine reported the news on Wednesday, and by this morning the humble armadillo had become the latest scourge of the American South.
But it's not the only animal that can get you sick. Plenty of far more common beasts carry surprisingly terrifying diseases, and some of them live right in our own cities and homes. Here are a few:
Cats: You can catch all kinds of things from your cuddly little kittens. The weirdest, scariest, and most common is toxoplasmosis. It's estimated that half the world's population carries this in a latent form, though it's hard to catch from cats unless you're pregnant or have a weak immune system. In its acute form it causes flu-like symptoms, and studies have shown it can control the minds of rats and possibly humans. If a cat scratches or bites you, you may also get cat scratch fever, which is an infection that causes a fever, swollen lymph nodes, and headache.
Horses: Everybody loves horses, but did you know they can carry anthrax? The disease favored by terrorists and metal heads has an equine form that is worrisome enough that horse owners who have an animal die suddenly are urged to get rid of it immediately for fear of the disease. Apparently the spores can transfer to humans through the lungs or even skin contact.
Mice: Rare but deadly, the hantavirus carried by mice can cause the deadly hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in humans. It's carried in mouse droppings, urine, and saliva, and found all over the United States. Early symptoms include fever, headache and muscle aches, evolving to coughing, shortness of breath, and maybe death.
Monkeys: Less common in the United States, obviously, monkeys can carry some really weird diseases. In 2005, 126 people died in Angola in an epidemic of Marburg, also known green monkey disease. There haven't been any outbreaks in the United States, but a Colorado man was found with the disease after returning from Uganda in 2008. The symptoms are similar to ebola, including so-called ruby eyes and black vomit.
Rabbits: They are adorable, and can carry the bubonic plague. In 2005, a plague-infested rabbit was found outside of Denver. Many rodents carry the disease, but you probably don't keep rats in a hutch outside your house. Symptoms of the plague include seizures, chills, fever, and swollen lymph glands.
Dogs: Most famously, dogs can carry rabies. While most people get their pets vaccinated for the disease, some don't. The disease is transmitted through a bite, and its symptoms can be flu-like early on, leading to paralysis, lock-jaw, excessive saliva production, hallucination, paranoia and terror. As recently as 2010 there was a rabies outbreak among raccoons in New York's Central Park, and the Indonesian resort island of Bali has battled the disease in its dogs since about 2008.