Florida Armadillos Source of Leprosy Spike

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While Florida normally sees a total of 10 cases of leprosy in a year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is blaming armadillos for a current spike in leprosy cases this year.

So far in 2015, nine cases of leprosy have been reported in Florida and all have been linked to armadillos. The most recent diagnosis was made in Flagler Country three weeks ago.

Since the 1940s, leprosy has been treatable and can even be cured if the right diagnosis is made early. The relative rarity of the disease, combined with the potentially long incubation period of the bacteria, makes it less likely that the condition is considered by physicians or patients. The main symptoms of leprosy are muscle weakness, numbness in the extremities, and skin lesions that are lighter than the patient’s regular skin tone and show decreased sensitivity to touch or temperature.

Leprosy treatment consists of an antibiotic regiment and multi-drug therapy that the World Health Organization (WHO) devised in 1995 and currently provides free of charge worldwide.

On a national scale, the United States sees around 100 cases of leprosy each year, though most are contracted abroad. About 20 to 40 cases are contracted domestically and are most concentrated in Hawaii, Florida, Mississippi, California, Massachusetts, Texas, Louisiana, and New York.

Leprosy is a bacterial disease that affects the skin and kills nerve endings. It is commonly associated with the loss of fingers and toes, but this is more of a side effect of patients not realizing they’ve damaged digits they can no longer feel.

According to the CDC, armadillos are the only animal that can carry the disease and it is spread through their saliva. Although nocturnal, armadillos can be encountered near forested areas, and they sometimes make nests beneath decks. In addition, it is currently this animal’s breeding season, so there is potential to encounter armadillo young during the day. Anyone who encounters an armadillo is urged to stay away and call a wildlife trapper.

Sources for Today’s Article:
“Leprosy,” The World Health Organization web site; http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs101/en/, last accessed July 21, 2015.
Reinberg, S., “Leprosy Still Occurs in U.S., CDC Reports,” Consumer HealthDay web site; http://consumer.healthday.com/diseases-and-conditions-information-37/misc-diseases-and-conditions-news-203/leprosy-still-occurs-in-u-s-cdc-reports-693260.html, last accessed July 21, 2015.