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Friday, July 24, 2015

Armadillos – touch at your own risk!

If you’re an avid reader of the “Talk Clean To Me” blog you’ll have noticed over the last several months we’ve chatted about the concept of One Health and zoonotic diseases .  If you’re not as avid a reader, zoonotic diseases are diseases that can be passed between animals and humans and can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi.  Unfortunately, zoonotic diseases are not rare; in fact, scientists estimate that more than 6 out of every 10 infectious diseases in humans are spread from animals.

While >60% of infectious diseases point directly to animals, I admit, I was thinking of chickens, pigs, primates and rodents as the primary causes.  Who knew Armadillos were just as concerning!  While Armadillos are not perhaps the cuddliest of creatures, you can’t help but want to touch them and if you haven’t had the opportunity, Armadillo racing is pretty fun! 

If you haven’t seen the headlines, Florida health officials are warning Floridians to stay away from Armadillos after 9 people have become infected with leprosy after coming into contact with these leather armored creatures.   Leprosy is not new.  It’s a century old bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium leprae.  Also known as Hansen’s disease, it causes nerve damage and disfigurement.  While it mainly affects the skin and nerves, it can also affect the upper respiratory tract and eyes. 

The bacterium that causes Leprosy can be found in humans and feral armadillos found in Louisiana and Texas and while not native to Florida, it would appear that the armadillos that have made their way to that state are also carriers of the bacteria.  As a disease, Leprosy is not highly contagious and while it has been around for eons, we are still not exactly certain how it is transmitted, but believe that prolonged direct contact with infectious nasal discharge, skin secretions and of course respiratory droplets from coughs or sneezes can lead to transmission.  I’m sure no one is wittingly cuddling a snotty nosed armadillo, but chances are transmission is occurring if or when the perturbed creature spits on someone.

Perhaps most concerning point with Leprosy is that the bacteria can lie dormant for years and has been shown to take up to a decade for symptoms to appear!  The upside is that 95% of the human population is not susceptible to Leprosy meaning that only about 100 new cases of Leprosy are confirmed each year in the US, so while this current outbreak is interesting, the chances of catching it are slim!

I wonder what the next zoonotic outbreak will be!

Bugging Off!


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