When we think of leprosy (aka: Hansen’s Disease) our mind automatically goes back thousands of years, or to those poorly developed third world countries of today. In fact, however, leprosy does occur here in the United States! The latest figures from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) show that in 2010 our nation had 294 confirmed cases; however, leprosy seems to be on the rise, especially in southern states like Florida. So far this year, Florida has seen 9 confirmed cases, which may seem like a small number until you realize that Florida usually only sees 10 cases in a whole year. – And the reason my surprise you!
It seems that those adorable little creatures-in-full-body-armor, the armadillo, is to blame. In fact, all nine cases this year in Florida have been linked to these seemingly innocent little creatures. Armadillos usually live in wooded areas, but they do wander into neighborhoods from time to time. Although they are normally nocturnal, the babies do appear in the daylight hours during breeding season – which is occurring now! It is important to note, that even the babies can carry this disease.
The way that a person becomes infected with leprosy is contact – either with an infected armadillo or another infected person. The armadillo is the only animal that can carry this debilitating disease, therefore, it is important that you avoid contact with these creatures – and be aware that armadillos are able to ‘spit’.
The effects of leprosy can begin very slowly as it is a slow growing bacteria that is at the root of this illness. Once exposed to this germ, a person can take anywhere from two to ten years to develop symptoms, but once they do it can rapidly become debilitating. Leprosy affects the nerves, skin, and mucous membranes causing a wide variety of symptoms such as:
Discoloration or lesions on the skin
Random growths on the skin
Thick, stiff, dry skin
Ulcers on the feet
Enlarged nerves especially on the elbow and knees
Stuffy nose with nosebleeds
Muscle weakness or paralysis especially of the hands and feet
Amputation especially of toes and fingers
Although this is still a dreaded disease, we have come a long way from the days of lepers needing to call out ‘unclean, unclean’ as they pass by. Leprosy can be treated by a doctor; the usual course of treatment includes the use of a variety of antibiotics over a period of 6 months to 2 years. Early detection is important in avoiding the more severe symptoms, therefore, if you have any concern about being exposed to leprosy, be sure to contact your health provider immediately for an evaluation.
Here at McCall Service we care about you and your family which is why we offer wildlife services that include armadillos. For more information on our wildlife services, contact us. For more information on leprosy here in Florida, click here.