Multiple cases of leprosy have been confirmed in Volusia County, Florida, and the armadillo population is taking most of the blame.
The Florida Department of Health confirmed three current and separate cases of leprosy, but says there is nothing to fear — most people are immune.
“Ninety-five percent of the people have natural immunity to it. And then, even for the people that are not immune to it, it's real hard to catch,” Dr. Paul Rehme of the Volusia County Health Department told WESH.
Armadillos carry the bacteria linked to leprosy and officials said two of the three people who were diagnosed had contact with a nine-banded armadillo.
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The bacteria is not only found on armadillos, it also exists in the environment.
Leprosy is easy to treat and not highly contagious. Within a few days of treatment, the possibility of transferring the disease to another person is gone, Rehme said.
“The incubation period runs between two and 10 years, so the exposure wasn't recent. The patients just became recently symptomatic,” Rehme said.
Leprosy causes such symptoms as ulcers, muscle weakness, eye problems, skin lesions and nerve damage. It can result in the infected developing claw hands, reports The Daily Mail.
According to Rehme, each patient is responding well to antibiotics.
Armadillos in the eastern U.S. do not carry the leprosy bacteria like their brethren in southern states do, such as in Texas and Louisiana.
It is believed that eating armadillo, like in the common armadillo chili, poses a greater chance of infection than touching the animal.
Each year in the U.S., there are typically 150 to 200 leprosy cases reported.
Florida usually has, on average, 10 cases per year.