JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Leprosy cases in Florida are higher than normal and experts are blaming armadillos. Nine cases have been reported across Florida so far this year.
On average, the state only sees 10 cases for the entire year. Action News spoke to a trapper who said he takes extra precautions because of this danger.
Armadillos are very common all over Florida, and most of them live in the woods. But others could live near your home, and we learned that puts you and your family at risk.
“We catch more armadillos than we do any other species,” said wildlife trapper Kyle Waltz.
Waltz is well aware of the risks that armadillos can carry.
“Especially if they're trying to get out of a cage they can spit on you,” Waltz said.
According to the CDC, armadillos are the only animal to carry leprosy, an age-old bacterial disease that affects the skin and nerves.
“It is a devastating illness if you do get it,” said Dr. Sunil Joshi, president of the Duval County Medical Society.
Joshi said leprosy can be easily treated if diagnosed. But while considered rare in the U.S., the number of leprosy cases in Florida is growing.
According to the Department of Health, an average of 10 Floridians are diagnosed every year. But this year, already 9 patients have been identified, the latest was diagnosed in Flagler County three weeks ago.
“What's happening in Florida is not necessarily concerning but what's interesting is those cases were all with people who were in direct contact with armadillos,” Joshi said.
Action News’ Amanda Warford personally learned that avoiding armadillos isn't easy. Last month, she found six living under her Southside home.
She called a trapper and these experts say that was the right move to avoid any risk.
“It is still very, very unlikely to cause problems but be aware of armadillos and stay away from them,” Joshi said.
Armadillos are usually nocturnal, but right now is breeding season in Florida, so you may see babies out during the day. Experts say, do not get close to them, because they also can carry the disease.