Tags: leprosy | florida | armadillos | spike | illness

Leprosy in Florida? Officials Blame Unusual Spike on Armadillos

Image: Leprosy in Florida? Officials Blame Unusual Spike on Armadillos
A giant armadillo (tatou), a species in danger of extinction is seen in the zoo of Asuncion, 15 September 2006. (Norberto Duarte/AFP/Getty Images)

By    |   Wednesday, 22 Jul 2015 09:26 AM

Leprosy cases in Florida are higher than ever this year and wildlife officials are blaming the spike on armadillos.

Leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, is caused by bacteria that could trigger multiple symptoms including severe pain, muscle weakness or paralysis, blindness, and enlarged nerves over time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

WJAX-TV reported that the Department of Health has identified nine patients suffering from leprosy so far this year in Florida. The state normally averages 10 cases per year.

"What's happening in Florida is not necessarily concerning but what's interesting is those cases were all with people who were in direct contact with armadillos," Dr. Sunil Joshi, president of the Duval County Medical Society, told WJAX-TV.

Joshi told the television station that, if diagnosed, leprosy can be easily treated and is still considered rare in the United States, despite the increasing numbers in Florida this year. According to the CDC, armadillos are the only known animals to naturally carry leprosy.

The alarm about the increase in leprosy diagnoses was sounded in February when health officials in Volusia County, Florida, reported three new cases of the illness since October of 2014, according to Forbes magazine.

The connection between armadillos and leprosy can be documented in a 2011 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which blamed the animals as the main carriers of the zoonotic bacteria in the country.

"Wild armadillos and many patients with leprosy in the southern United States are infected with the same strain of (Mycobacterium leprae)," according to the conclusion of the New England Journal of Medicine study. "Armadillos are a large natural reservoir for M. leprae and leprosy may be a zoonosis in the region."

WJAX-TV wrote that armadillos are common in Florida, living in the wild as well as populated areas.

"We catch more armadillos than we do any other species," wildlife trapper Kyle Waltz told the television station, noting they can be a hazard for people who come in contact with them. "Especially if they're trying to get out of a cage they can spit on you."

Though armadillos are usually nocturnal, they are currently in their breeding season in Florida, and young armadillos may be seen out during the day.

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Leprosy cases in Florida are higher than ever this year and wildlife officials are blaming the spike on armadillos.
leprosy, florida, armadillos, spike, illness
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2015-26-22
Wednesday, 22 Jul 2015 09:26 AM
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