Nine-banded Armadillo –wikipedia
The past couple of weeks armadillos and leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) have been in the news again, as Florida recorded its 9th case of 2015 (see Newsweek’s Spitting Armadillos Blamed for Florida’s Emerging Leprosy Problem). Although rare, the United States still sees about 150-220 cases each year, and 200,000 cases are estimated around the world each year.
Indigenous cases are primarily associated with contact with armadillos – for some, a southern delicacy – and known reservoir for the bacteria: Mycobacterium leprae (see my 2011 blog Hint: Don’t Order The `Possum On the Half Shell’).
Armadillos are not native to Florida, or the southeastern United States for that matter, but have proliferated and expanded their range remarkably over the past 50 years. They are now so numerous in Florida, and so often end up as road kill, that the old joke `Why did the chicken cross the road?’ now has a Florida-centric punch line:
`To prove to the armadillo it can be done.’
But I digress.
Here in the United States, Hansen’s disease is studied and tracked by the HHS’s National Hansen's Disease (Leprosy) Program. Some excerpts from their homepage:
A genetic study at the National Hansen’s Disease Program reports that armadillos may be a source of infection in the southern United States. The Program advises:
- The risk of transmission from animals to humans is low, but armadillos are wild animals and should be treated as such, with all proper precautions.
- Individuals should decide for themselves whether or not to interact with these animals and, if so, what precautions to take.
Hansen's Disease (Leprosy) Facts
- Most (95 percent) of the human population is not susceptible to infection with M. leprae, the bacteria that causes Hansen's disease (leprosy).
- Treatment with standard antibiotic drugs is very effective.
- Patients become noninfectious after taking only a few doses of medication and need not be isolated from family and friends.
- Diagnosis in the U.S. is often delayed because health care providers are unaware of Hansen's disease (leprosy) and its symptoms.
- Early diagnosis and treatment prevents nerve involvement, the hallmark of Hansen's disease (leprosy), and the disability it causes.
- Without nerve involvement, Hansen's disease (leprosy) is a minor skin disease.
Fact sheet N°101
Updated May 2015
- Leprosy is a chronic disease caused by a slow multiplying bacillus, Mycobacterium leprae.
- M. leprae multiplies slowly and the incubation period of the disease is about 5 years. Symptoms can take as long as 20 years to appear.
- The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract and also the eyes.
- Leprosy is curable.
- Although not highly infectious, it is transmitted via droplets, from the nose and mouth, during close and frequent contacts with untreated cases.
With this prolonged incubation period - running from 5 to 20 years - determining how and where someone might have been exposed in our highly mobile society can be difficult, or even impossible.
All of which serves as prelude to a press release and short video, released by the Florida Department of Health yesterday, answering questions about the risks of leprosy from contact with armadillos.
Florida Department Of Health Provides Online Resources Regarding Hansen’s Disease Or Leprosy
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 24, 2015
FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH PROVIDES ONLINE RESOURCES REGARDING HANSEN’S DISEASE OR LEPROSY
TALLAHASSEE—In an effort to facilitate media interviews regarding Hansen’s disease, formerly known as leprosy, the Florida Department of Health has made available a broadcast-quality, downloadable interview with Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. Carina Blackmore. The video can be accessed here: http://www.floridahealth.gov/diseases-and-conditions/leprosy/index.html
In Florida, between two and 12 cases are reported each year. So far in 2015, nine cases have been reported in Florida residents. The incubation period for Hansen’s disease is two to 10 years, which makes it inherently difficult to identify the exposure source.
At this point, the role of armadillos in the transmission of Hansen’s disease to humans is not fully understood. There is a particular strain of Hansen’s disease identified in people in the Southeastern U.S. that has also been identified in armadillos in the same region.
The department recommends that people avoid contact with wild animals, such as armadillos and to take precautions if they must handle them by using gloves and washing their hands before and after exposure.