Doctors are reportedly warning against making contact with armadillos after a series of leprosy outbreaks that many believe are linked to the animal.
Leprosy, Newsiosity reported, is a disease that causes colored patches on the skin and can damage the eyes, nerves and limbs. In the 1980s, there were millions of known cases in the world – though the number of people who contract the disease has dropped to around 230,000 since then. The disease is also known as Hansen’s disease.
Though most new cases appear in just 16 countries, around 200 cases are reported in the U.S. per year. Florida, in particular, has seen a recent spike of cases this year. The state normally sees 10 cases per year, but nine have been reported since the beginning of 2017.
Recently, Armadillos sightings in Florida have been on the rise, and the shelled animals have been known to carry leprosy – leading many to theorize that contact with armadillos might be behind the rise in cases of the disease.
Some readers echoed warnings about coming in contact with armadillos, saying that people should be cautious when interacting with one.
“I’m from middle Fla… known this for years! Guys, just don’t touch and play with one! It’s that simple. C’mon! Use your common sense!” one Newsiosity reader commented on the site’s Facebook page.
“It has been know since the seventies at least. Google armadillos and leprosy and see. We have always had incidental cases of leprosy here and there was a leprosarium in south Louisiana,” another wrote.
Despite the supposed link between armadillos and leprosy, some experts expressed skepticism that a real connection actually exists. Dr, Richard Truman, chief of the National Hansen’s Disease Program’s laboratory research branch, told NPR that he wasn’t sure of the odds that the nine cases in Florida could have all come from armadillos.
“For one, what kind of numbers are we talking about? That’s not very different than what may be occurring over normal periods of time,” he said.
Truman added that people should still exercise caution when coming in contact with an armadillos, but clarified that there was no need to panic because of the fact that the majority of the 150-200 new annual cases come from people who were previously in countries with higher leprosy rates.
“Between Texas and Louisiana and the southern United States, many millions of people have direct or indirect exposure to armadillos every day,” he said.