Diseases you probably thought had undergone extinction have now been making headlines lately. First, there was the measles outbreak at Disneyland this past winter. Then, cases of the plague appeared in Colorado. And now, Florida is seeing a spike in leprosy cases.
A leprosy outbreak in Florida is being attributed to an unlikely source: armadillos, with at least nine people diagnosed of the ailment thus far in 2015 – almost double the usual state rate, which sees an average of 10 diagnoses per year – with the most recent victim citing exposure to the New World mammals.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, revealed that some armadillos are naturally infected with leprosy.
According to the University of Florida, the small animals are naturally nocturnal but are now in their breeding season, as a result, they’re out more during the day now, when they may come into contact with people.
Information gathered shows that armadillos are the only animal able to carry leprosy – which some scientists believe they contracted from humans hundreds of years ago – and are common across Florida.
“We catch more armadillos than we do any other species,” wildlife trapper Kyle Waltz told Action News Jacksonville. “If they’re trying to get out of a cage they can spit on you.”
Armadillos are sometimes shot and eaten by locals, and infections may be growing in number due to humans encroaching on the animals’ habitat.
Medical experts are assuring residents that ceasing any kind of interaction with them should alleviate the risk of disease contraction.
“Most people think you can’t do anything about it, but leprosy is a disease that’s treatable with antibiotics,” says Dr. Leisha Nolen, an epidemic intelligence service officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Without treatment, it can cause nerve damage, muscle weakness, and permanent disabilities.