Floridians apparently have a thing for petting armadillos, according to recent warnings from the Florida Department of Health, which released a memo on July 21 asking residents to stay away from armadillos. According to state officials, armadillos have been causing leprosy rates to skyrocket in Florida.
Tech Times reported that nine cases of leprosy have been reported in Florida this year, which is abnormally high considering that the average number of cases for the state per year typically peaks at 12.
Hansen’s disease, which is more commonly called leprosy, is caused by the Mycobacterium leprae bacteria, according to USA Today, and this same bacteria naturally appears in armadillos.
Leprosy is extremely rare in developed nations like the U.S., according to Tech Times and data from the World Health Organization. Anywhere between 50 and 100 cases are typically found per year in the U.S., and health experts state that 95% of the human population is actually naturally immune to the disease.
In areas where leprosy appears more often, these regions tend to have a higher population density and less accessibility to medical help. Human error is typically responsible for about 80% of adverse health situations, and in regions throughout South Asia and Africa, people are often unaware that skin-on-skin contact is enough to transmit the bacteria.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that it is unlikely for Americans to be infected with the disease by coming in contact with an armadillo, but it’s still possible.
CNN recently talked to Dr. Sunil Joshi, president-elect of the Duval County Medical Society in Florida, who said that the trend isn’t actually a surprise; home development rates in Florida have increased suddenly, causing wild animals like armadillos to be forced out of their natural habitats.
Symptoms usually remain dormant while the bacteria grows, but eventually skin lesions appear and can even lead to neurological problems such as seizures and psychosis.
Residents and visitors in Florida are being urged to avoid playing with wild animals and to check their yards for holes where armadillos may be hiding. Anyone who has come in contact with an armadillos is urged to seek medical attention immediately.
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