Nine cases of leprosy, a curable but unsightly disease that can cause nerve damage if left untreated, have popped up in Florida this year. Now health officials in the state are warning people to stay away from armadillos, the only animals that carry the leprosy-causing bacteria Mycobacterium leprae.
Leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease) is rare, but not unheard of, across the US; in Florida there are usually fewer than 10 cases each year. The infection is transmitted through droplets of mucus or saliva.
Each Floridian diagnosed in 2015 has had direct contact with an armadillo, according to a local doctor interviewed by the Associated Press. The armor-shelled animals tend to spit when people get too close.