The number of leprosy cases in Florida has sharply risen this year. Yes, leprosy is still around, but what’s causing this spike? Armadillos apparently. Health officials are now telling residents to avoid Armadillos for their own safety.
Leprosy – also known as Hansen's disease – is an infectious disease that causes skin sores and nerve damage. These symptoms worsen over time, but leprosy is now easily treatable with antibiotics and people are no longer shunned to leper colonies for contracting the centuries-old disease. Leprosy is now incredibly rare as around 95% of people are immune to the bacteria, Mycobacterium leprae, that causes leprosy. In 2010, the most recent year that data is available, there were 294 new cases reported in the U.S.
Florida typically has ten cases of leprosy a year, but health officials have already reported nine incidences so far in 2015. The disease is not very contagious, but can be spread from person to person when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Leprosy has a long incubation period; it usually takes 2–10 years before symptoms appear. Leprosy can also naturally infect armadillos, so there’s a small risk that you can get the disease from an armadillo.
Dr. Sunil Joshi, president of the Duval County Medical Society in Florida, links the unusually growth in leprosy cases to property development in Florida. He told CNN that “There is a clear reason why this is happening in Florida.”
“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.”
Joshi told USA Today that all nine leprosy cases reported this year have involved people who have come into close contact with armadillos. Health officials warn that although most people who come into contact with armadillos are unlikely to get Leprosy, it's best to avoid contact and take precautions with the wild animals to reduce the risk of disease.