Is there any creature in Florida (including humans) that can’t kill you? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the number of Floridians contracting leprosy (yep, the famous biblical disease that launched a thousand miracles) has doubled in the first half of 2015. And what do they blame for this increase? Spitting armadillos!
The first surprise is that leprosy is still a disease we deal with. In an average year, there are 150-to-250 cases of Hansen’s Disease, the clinical name for leprosy, in the U.S., with most of them reported in the southern states, especially Texas and Louisiana. While the numbers are holding steady in most areas, Florida, which had ten cases in all of 2104, has already seen nine cases in 2015. So what does this have to do with spitting armadillos?
Leprosy is caused by the bacteria mycobacterium laprae and transmitted via secretions from the nose and mouth of people with untreated cases of the disease. When not treated, leprosy can cause nerve damage, muscle weakness and skin inflammations. The disease was brought to the Americas by Europeans and passed on to one of the few other creatures who can contract it – armadillos. Don’t ask how this happened – some questions are best left unanswered.
Armadillos were obviously upset because they’re now giving leprosy back to humans. In most previous cases, the disease was passed when humans ate armadillos (probably tastes like a bowl of chicken). In Florida, it seems that the armadillo population is moving to the suburbs and homeowners are capturing them in cages where a close look at the critter can get you a face of … you guessed it … armadillo spit. The spit contains the bacteria and it gets easily passed backed to humans as sweet armadillo revenge.
Fortunately, leprosy is no longer the biblical scourge nor the “leper colony” disease of yore. It can be treated with a multi-drug therapy. That doesn’t mean Floridians or anyone living in southern states can start grilling dillo burgers or poking them in cages (maybe that's how armadillos first got leprosy!). It’s estimated that at least 20 percent of all armadillos have leprosy. So keep your distance from all of them, especially the spitters.
Wouldn’t Spitting Armadillos be a great name for a band?