Florida man diagnosed with leprosy years after contact with armadillo, study shows

Leprosy cases previously reported in Florida

Armadillos have lived since the time of dinosaurs, and are the only mammals with a tough outer shell. AP Image

A Central Florida man suffering from a skin rash mystified doctors trying to treat his symptoms until they learned of his previous history as an armadillo hunter decades earlier leading to the diagnoses of leprosy, according to a recent scientific study.

A study published in the BMJ Journals details the curious case of a 58-year-old man who was suffering from a patchy rash on his arm experiencing some numbness on the affected area. According to the study, he was treated but returned when the symptoms worsened.

After looking into the man’s history, doctors learned that he trapped armadillos as a hunter, however, that was more than 30 years before he experienced the symptoms.

The man was diagnosed with Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy, and was given antibiotics to treat the disease.

Armadillos are known carriers of the bacterial infection and if it wasn’t for the numbness associated with leprosy the disease would be a minor skin rash, according to the National Hansen’s Disease Program. Why armadillos as carries of the bacteria is unknown, according to the department of health, and the disease has not been found in other animals.

In 2015 and 2016, there were about half a dozen people in Central Florida who were diagnosed with leprosy, two of whom contracted the disease after coming into contact with armadillos.

Around 200 cases of Hansen’s disease are reported in the U.S. annually, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Most cases, about 72%, occur in Florida, California, Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, New York and Texas, according to the National Hansen’s Disease Program.

The good news is that the disease is not spread easily and about 95% of people have natural protective immunity against the disease, according to the department of health.

Signs and symptoms

The disease can lay dormant for years and symptoms may not develop for some time. However, a red area or rash on the body associated with a loss of feeling in that area can be a symptom of leprosy. Some people may experience the loss of sensation in hands or feet. Dry skin and thinning of eyebrows and eyelashes can also occur, according to the department of health.

Without the associated numbness and nerve problems, leprosy would be a minor skin disease, according to the National Hansen’s Disease Program.

How to test for leprosy

There is no blood test for Hanson’s disease currently. Doctors can take a skin sample from an affected rash area to make a diagnosis.

Once diagnosed leprosy can be treated with antibiotics over several years, according to the National Hansen’s Disease Program.