Unusually high numbers of leprosy cases all across Florida are causing authorities to urge state residents to stay away from the disease-carrying animal. Normally, the number of leprosy cases diagnosed state-wide doesn’t exceed 10 per year. However, there have already been nine cases reported and authorities believe that armadillos are the ones to blame.
Wildlife trappers explain that the majority of their work involves armadillos, who have become common all across Florida. Despite living in wooded areas, the animals may venture into towns and wander near homes.
Healthcare professionals explain that the situation itself isn’t concerning. What is worrisome is the fact that all the incriminated cases involved people who had come in direct contact with the armour shelled mammal.
The latest reported infection originated in Bunnell, Flagler County, on June 26th. After initial allegations that the patient had had direct contact with armadillos, Flagler County Health officials conducted an epidemiologic analysis and confirmed this suspicion.
According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports, the armadillo is the only mammal that still carries this ancient bacterial disease. Armadillos are nocturnal animals. However, because it’s breeding season, the animals may be out during the day, especially the mammal’s young. They, too, may be carriers of the leprosy-causing bacteria.
Leprosy is a chronic bacterial infection which manifests with peripheral nerve damage, as well as the skin, the mucous membranes, eyes and testes. Without proper treatment (which involves courses of antibiotics such as rifampin, dapsone or clofazimine), people remain visibly disfigured or disabled.
Thankfully, leprosy is a rare disease in the United States. Underdeveloped countries face much higher numbers of leprosy, and the worldwide number of those suffering disabilities as a result of their infection is nearly 2 million.
Authorities recommend that Florida residents stay as far away from armadillos as possible.
Photo credits: Wild Florida