Leprosy charity urges the British public not to be alarmed by red squirrel stories - European Medical Journal

Leprosy charity urges the British public not to be alarmed by red squirrel stories

3 Mins

Colchester, United Kingdom, 14 May, 2018

Specialist leprosy charity, Lepra, states it is highly unlikely for people to catch leprosy from red squirrels, in response to research which has hit recent news headlines.

The research published in the medical journal PLOS1 claims that red squirrels may have introduced leprosy to medieval Britain. However, Lepra states that whilst the transmission of leprosy is scientifically possible from red squirrels, it is highly unlikely that people will contract the disease from this source.

Geoff Prescott, Chief Executive at Lepra comments:

“Whilst it is scientifically possible for people to contract leprosy from red squirrels, the chances of such transmission are infinitesimal.

“It is not, nor should it be, a public health concern in the UK. Indeed, it is very hard to catch leprosy anyway. There is a small chance you can contract leprosy if travelling in an endemic country and a handful of such cases are diagnosed in the UK each year.

“A focus however, does need to be given to the people who are affected by leprosy across the developing world. If left untreated, or there are complications, it causes life-changing disabilities.

“Common misconceptions, such as that the belief this disease no longer exists even abroad, continue to hinder our fight to beat leprosy. It is important people know this disease is still ravaging lives, and that there are millions affected who desperately need support.”

The charity is urging the British public to look beyond the squirrel ‘scare stories’ and focus on the wider devastation the disease causes. Over 214,000 cases of leprosy were reported across the world in 2016, with cases in India the highest for 10 years2.

Leprosy is curable through a course of antibiotics, however, it can leave lasting damage to limbs and faces – especially if not treated early. Research shows that there are at least 3 million people living undiagnosed and at least 4 million currently suffering from disabilities caused by this disease.

To find out more about Lepra’s work visit lepra.org.uk

About Lepra

Lepra is an international charity that has been based in Colchester since 1974.

Leprosy affects millions of the most vulnerable people in the world, causing life-changing disabilities and attracting terrible stigma. However, there is a cure.

The charity work to beat leprosy in India, Bangladesh and Mozambique by finding, diagnosing and treating people affected by the disease.

By raising awareness, pushing for early detection and supporting people living with disabilities caused by leprosy, Lepra work towards a day when this disease no longer destroys lives. In 2016-2017, the charity reached 252,000 people through diagnosis, treatment and care. They reached a further 1.3 million people through health education and events to raise awareness of leprosy and other neglected diseases.

Find out more about Lepra on its social media channels:

Facebook: https://https://www.facebook.com/LEPRAHealthinAction/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Lepra_HinA


  • Rachel Skillen (Marketing and Communications Manager)
    Email: [email protected]
    Tel:  +44 (0)7419 749698



1 PLOS pathogens is a medical journal that primary research articles, informative Pearls, Research Matters, and Reviews, monthly Opinions, and occasional Editorials and Viewpoints.

2 The latest leprosy update by the World Health Organisation shows that 135,485 cases of leprosy were detected in India in 2016


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