Leprosy reports have spiked in Florida, and the fault lies with one peculiar creature. Armadillos have been linked to nine cases of leprosy (also known as Hansen’s Disease) in the state so far this year. Usually, the state averages four reported cases per year.
The tough, armored mammals are natural carriers of the disease according to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. The Center says that those that risk of contracting the disease from these animals is very low, but recommends avoiding contact with them in order to eliminate all chances. Most infections come from handling the creatures or eating their meat.
Contrary to popular belief, leprosy itself does not cause limbs to fall off. It is a granulomatous disease that targets the upper respiratory tract, and does cause skin lesions to those afflicted. Loss of fingers, toes, and other limbs are the result of secondary infections, to which the body becomes more vulnerable due to the leprosy itself.
Armadillos easily contract leprosy due to their low body temperatures, making them ideal hosts for the bacteria that cause the disease, Mycobacterium leprae.