Florida Officials Warning People Not To Pet Armadillos Amid Spike In Leprosy Cases

In case you didn’t hear it from us the first time we mentioned it, petting armadillos could give you leprosy. Yes, seriously, you can get leprosy in the United States, and Florida health officials want to make sure you avoid it: experts in that state are warning residents to resist stroking the little armored creatures, due to a recent uptick in leprosy cases.

They might look cute in their armored suits, but being adorable doesn’t prevent armadillos from spreading the disease, Florida health and wildlife experts say, so curb that itch to caress the next one that crosses your path.

Just this year, nine cases of leprosy have been reported in Florida residents, says the state’s Department of Health, and all of the cases this year involved people who had direct contact with armadillos. Usually anywhere between two and 12 cases are reported each year. Those who develop clinical illness can experience a bunch of symptoms, including infections to their skin, nerves and mucus.

“Hansen’s disease, formerly known as leprosy, is caused by Mycobacterium leprae bacteria,” which has also been found in nine-banded armadillos, a department spokesperson told First Coast News (warning: link contains autoplay video).

It’s not always the armadillo’s fault, as the disease can be transmitted from person-to-person through sweat, after “extended close contact with an infected person, such as living in the same household,” the health department spokesperson explained.

However, there’s a low risk of contracting leprosy from armadillos, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: about 95% of people are resistant to infection. But it can happen, especially if you spend a lot of time with one.

“Teach your kids to stay away from them. Don’t try to pet them and don’t try to grab them,” a spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission advised.

Health experts: Steer clear of armadillos [First Coast News]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.