Thanks Armadillos! The Pervasive Animals Are Giving People In Florida Lots of Leprosy

Shelley Hazen - Author

Jul. 22 2015, Updated 8:28 a.m. ET

Florida — the home of beaches, swaying palm trees, weird crimes, and now, leprosy. And residents there have a not-so-cuddly creature to thank for a rise in infections: armadillos.

Oddly, armadillos — not native to Florida but found everywhere in the Sunshine State — are the only animals known to carry the illness, and apparently, they’re quite eager to give it to any Floridian they came across.

Every year, only 10 people are infected with leprosy in Florida, but so far this year nine people have contracted the Biblical illness, the Sun Sentinel reported; the most recent case was three weeks ago.

Each of them had been in contact with armadillos. And apparently, they’re quite hard to avoid.

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A reporter at Action News in Jacksonville recently found six living under her house; they usually live in the woods. And now, it’s breeding season, meaning the offspring of the usually nocturnal animals are out and about during the day.

Though it’s probably our fault we’re catching leprosy from armadillos in the first place — we are on their turf after all, Duval County Medical Society head Dr. Sunil Joshi, president-elect said, according to The Washington Post.

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“New homes are being developed, and we are tearing down armadillos’ homes in the process. Now, these creatures are coming out in the daytime, and the people who are getting exposed are those working outside.”

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A common sight across Florida, wildlife trapper Kyle Waltz said he catches more admadillos than anything else, and they sound like nasty creatures.

“Especially if they’re trying to get out of a cage they can spit on you,” Waltz said.

Which is great, because their spit is exactly where the bacteria is hiding, though it’s pretty rare to catch the disease from armadillos. Usually, people get it from each other through coughing or sneezing.

So if you’re in Florida, the general rule this summer is to keep a wide berth from the spitting, contagious animals, just in case. Though leprosy isn’t the isolating disease it once was and can be treated with antibiotics, it lies dormant for years before showing symptoms.

And of course, the disease sounds disgusting. It affects the skin and nerves lying outside the brain and spine, and can also attack the eyes and tissue inside the nose. Skin sores, lumps, bumps, rashes, and nerve damage can result. In the worst cases, a leprosy victim’s hands and feet can go numb, meaning they can be injured on those limbs and not feel a thing; it can also lead to disfigurement, claw-like hands, nosebleeds, and erectile dysfunction.

Perhaps it’s just best to stay away from Florida for a little while.

[Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons]


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