Leprosy… the very word produces mental images of suffering and disfigurement. Throughout its history, leprosy has been feared and misunderstood. Stanford University says that, “For a long time leprosy was thought to be a hereditary disease, a curse, or a punishment from God.” Stanford also reports that it’s an ancient disease, and discussed in an Egyptian Papyrus document written around 1550 B.C. Around 600 B.C. Indian writings describe a disease that resembles leprosy too. “In Europe, leprosy first appeared in the records of ancient Greece after the army of Alexander the Great came back from India and then in Rome in 62 B.C.”
In spite of the fact that most people, and many health care providers, have never seen the disease, Leprosy has been extremely prevalent in various areas throughout history. Amazingly, it is now experiencing a renewed incidence in our own country from a most unlikely source.
What is leprosy?
Jareen Imam of CNN.com reports, “Leprosy is a rare disease, and there are, on average, 50 to 100 cases in the United States every year, according to Dr. Sunil Joshi, president-elect of the Duval County Medical Society in Florida.”
What is the cause of leprosy?
Leprosy is a chronic disease caused by a bacillus, Mycobacterium leprae.
How is the leprosy spread and what can it do?
Leprosy is not highly infectious. It is transmitted via droplets, from the nose and mouth, during close and frequent contacts with untreated cases. The causative organism multiplies very slowly and the incubation period of the disease is about five years. Symptoms can take as long as 20 years to appear.
Untreated, leprosy can cause progressive and permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes. Early diagnosis and treatment with multidrug therapy (MDT) remain the key elements in eliminating the disease as a public health concern, according to the World Health Organization.
Also according to the World Health Organization, official figures show that more than 215,000 new cases of leprosy were reported in 2013, globally.
Are dogs and cats ever infected by leprosy?
While uncommon, leprosy has been reported in both dogs and cats (1,2). Affected animals develop nodules in and under the skin associated with acid-fast bacteria in the cells (3).
Recent leprosy increase in the U.S.
Recently there seems to have been a significant increase in the number of cases in Florida, according to CNN. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services speculates that it's possibly because of increased contact between people and leprosy infected armadillos. Experts said they believe the spike is because of people coming into contact with armadillos. Armadillos are one of the only known animals to carry leprosy.
How can you prevent or avoid Leprosy?
CNN reports that, “Experts are urging Floridians to use caution and not touch the small, cat-sized creatures. Armadillos are common in Florida and found across most of the state, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.” Be sure to contact Animal Control officials or a professional trapper to avoid the risk of infection.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
When you have a pet, you want to make sure that they are taken care of at all times. Part of this responsibility is protecting them from any wildlife that may come onto your property. This includes raccoons, squirrel, stray cats, and in some cases even Jacksonville armadillos. The armadillos are nocturnal creatures and are very active in the summer. However, it is common to find them in homes as they look for food. They are known to eat eggs, worms and insects. In your home, you may think they do not cause any harm, but this is hardly the case. They damage the landscape in search for worms. They also are a potential risk to chickens since they eat the eggs. When they sense danger, they become defensive by fighting and this could harm your pets like dogs and cats.
Why you need to keep the armadillos from your property
When it comes to the armadillos, you need to make sure you keep them off your property. Many people think they are harmless creatures, but this is not the case. They are known to cause loads of harm, and this could lead to serious injuries. Common details about the Florida armadillos include the fact they:
• Produce a bad smell
• Destroy the landscape
• Hunt at night
• Make funny noises
These are some of the reasons that make the armadillo a dangerous creature. At the end of the day, you want to make your home safe and all your pets safe from this animal.
Cause deadly scratches
The armadillos can cause deadly scratches since they have the bacteria that make pets like dogs and cats weak when they are fighting. The same happens when they scratch humans, and this means rushing to the hospital to seek treatment. They are violent animals known to cause panic, and when they sense danger, they become defensive, and through scratching, they keep danger away.
Spread diseases easily
You need to know that the Jacksonville armadillos have bacteria which they carry in them. When they sense any danger, they scratch and they transfer the bacteria. This is the case for many pet owners who have to rush to the vet to seek treatment for their pets. At the end of the day, you want to eliminate the dangers for your pets, and this starts when you focus on eliminating the armadillos from your property.
Call animal control
You do not want to encounter an angry armadillos, and this is the reason why it is highly advisable for one to call animal control. When you do this, it becomes very easy for them to eliminate the threat. You also have a good chance of finding out all the weak areas in your property that attract the Florida armadillos to your home. When you do this, you no longer need to worry about any cases of armadillos affecting your pets or landscape. Once you notice any sign of their presence, you need to take drastic measures since they are known to cause havoc especially on landscapes.
Last week, offficials in eastern Florida announced the emergence of three new cases of leprosy—the ancient, highly stigmatized disease once handled by isolation—in the last five months. And two of those cases have been linked to contact with the armored, strangely cute critter endemic to the American south: armadillos.
Armadillos are the only other animals besides humans to host the leprosy bacillus. In 2011, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article formally linking the creature to human leprosy cases—people and armadillos tested in the study both shared the same exact strain of the disease.
So, what’s unique about armadillos that make them good carriers? Likely a combination of body temperature and the fragile nature of the disease. As the New York Times reports, leprosy is a “wimp of a pathogen." It’s so fragile that it dies quickly outside of the body and is notoriously difficult to grow in lab conditions. But with a body temperature of just 90 degrees, one hypothesis suggests, the armadillo presents a kind of Goldilocks condition for the disease—not too hot, not too cold. Bacterial transmission to people can occur when we handle or eat the animal.
But before you start to worry about epidemics or making armadillo eradication plans, find comfort in this: Though Hansen’s disease, as it is clinically known, annually effects 250,000 people worldwide, it only infects about 150 to 250 Americans. Even more reassuring: up to 95 percent of the population is genetically unsusceptible to contracting it. And these days, it is highly treatable and not nearly as contagious as once believed.
And as for armadillos—the risk of transmission to humans is low. Only the nine-banded armadillo is known to carry the disease. And, most people in the U.S. who come down with the chronic bacterial disease get it from other people while traveling outside the country.
And it looks like armadillos are the real victims here. Scientists believe that we actually transmitted leprosy to them about 400 to 500 years ago. Today, up to 20 percent of some armadillo populations are thought to be infected. At least, according to one researcher at the National Hansen’s Disease Program in Baton Rouge, the critters rarely live long enough to be seriously effected by the disease’s symptoms.
Experts say the easiest way to avoid contagion is to simply avoid unnecessary contact with the critters. And, of course, they advise not to go hunting, skinning or eating them (which is a rule the armadillos would probably appreciate, too).
Laura Clark is a writer and editor based in Pittsburgh. She's a blogger with Smart News and a senior editor at Pitt magazine.
In the U.S., Hansen’s disease is rare. Around the world, as many as 2 million people are permanently disabled as a result of Hansen’s disease.
Overall, the risk of getting Hansen’s disease for any adult around the world is very low. That’s because more than 95% of all people have natural immunity to the disease.
In the southern United States, some armadillos are naturally infected with the bacteria that cause Hansen's disease.
You may be at risk for the disease if you live in a country where the disease is widespread. Countries that reported more than 1,000 new cases of Hansen’s disease to WHO between 2011 and 2015 are:
You may also be at risk if you are in prolonged close contact with people who have untreated Hansen’s disease. If they have not been treated, you could get the bacteria that cause Hansen’s disease. However, as soon as patients start treatment, they are no longer able to spread the disease.
The distribution of new leprosy cases by country among 136 countries that reported to WHO in 2015. India reported 127,326 new cases, accounting for 60% of the global new leprosy cases Brazil, reported 26,395 new cases, representing 13% of the global new cases and Indonesia reported 17,202 new cases, 8% of the global case load. No other countries reported >10,000 new cases. Eleven countries reported between 1000 and 10,000 cases: from Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nigeria and United Republic of Tanzania from Southeast Asia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka and from Western Pacific, the Philippines. Collectively, these countries reported 19,069 new cases, 14% of all new cases globally. The remaining 10,286 new cases (5%) were reported by 92 countries. Thirty countries reported zero new cases. Ninety-two countries did not report, several of which are known to have cases of leprosy. Source: Courtesy of WHO External
Horses: Everybody loves horses, but did you know they can carry anthrax? The disease favored by terrorists and metal heads has an equine form that is worrisome enough that horse owners who have an animal die suddenly are urged to get rid of it immediately for fear of the disease. Apparently the spores can transfer to humans through the lungs or even skin contact.
Mice: Rare but deadly, the hantavirus carried by mice can cause the deadly hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in humans. It's carried in mouse droppings, urine, and saliva, and found all over the United States. Early symptoms include fever, headache and muscle aches, evolving to coughing, shortness of breath, and maybe death.
Monkeys: Less common in the United States, obviously, monkeys can carry some really weird diseases. In 2005, 126 people died in Angola in an epidemic of Marburg, also known green monkey disease. There haven't been any outbreaks in the United States, but a Colorado man was found with the disease after returning from Uganda in 2008. The symptoms are similar to ebola, including so-called ruby eyes and black vomit.
Rabbits: They are adorable, and can carry the bubonic plague. In 2005, a plague-infested rabbit was found outside of Denver. Many rodents carry the disease, but you probably don't keep rats in a hutch outside your house. Symptoms of the plague include seizures, chills, fever, and swollen lymph glands.
Dogs: Most famously, dogs can carry rabies. While most people get their pets vaccinated for the disease, some don't. The disease is transmitted through a bite, and its symptoms can be flu-like early on, leading to paralysis, lock-jaw, excessive saliva production, hallucination, paranoia and terror. As recently as 2010 there was a rabies outbreak among raccoons in New York's Central Park, and the Indonesian resort island of Bali has battled the disease in its dogs since about 2008.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.