Two of the three recently diagnosed with leprosy in Florida have been in contact with nine-banded armadillos, according to Volusia County health officials.
Armadillos, which are only found in the Western Hemisphere, are not naturally carriers of the disease, as they themselves were infected by European settlers who migrated to America.
The easily treatable disease can induce skin lesions and nerve damage if left untreated.
The Daily Mail reports roughly 95 percent of humans exhibit a natural immunity to the bacteria carried by the armadillos and that while there were roughly 250,000 cases worldwide in 2008, the CDC indicates that there are only about 100 cases of leprosy reported in the U.S. each year.
The report also notes that most Americans who have managed to contract the disease have done so while abroad.
With an incubation period which can last years, it’s not necessary for a patient who has contracted the disease from an armadillo to have come in recent contact with the animal. While the Daily Mail report indicates that it can take as long as 10 years, CBS News reports that the incubation period can last up to 20 years.
It is not uncommon to find armadillos incorporated into food dishes in southern states such as Texas. Consuming the animal presents a higher risk of contracting the disease than simply touching them.
Ulcers, muscle weakness and eye problems are early signs of the disease.
A paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine back in 2011 indicates that the leathery animals are suspected to be carriers of the leprosy bacteria known as M. Leprae.
Once in the human body, the bacteria slowly multiplies. It affects the skin, eyes, peripheral nerves and the lining of the respiratory tract.
Claw hands, tumor-esque growths, disfigured skin and damage to bone, cartilage and tissue are common with the progression of the disease.
The World Health Organization indicates that the disease still has a presence in Ethiopia, Indonesia, India, and other countries including Burma where forestry officials recently found a rare albino elephant.
Have you ever eaten an armadillo and if so, do you plan on continuing to do so in the future in light of the increased risk of contracting the curable infection disease known as leprosy?