The risk of catching leprosy from an armadillo is pretty minimal. That's partly because most people don't spend enough time around armadillos to catch anything from them. And certainly, most people aren't petting armadillos, which seems like just about the only way you'd have enough direct contact with one to be at risk.
But in Florida, nine people have been diagnosed with leprosy after contact with armadillos this year, USA Today reports. Every year around twelve cases are reported in the state. The state health department–and animal control–are reminding people once again to not get up close with armadillos in any way.
A 2011 newsletter from the Florida Department of Health reads, "Because infection occurs internally, there is no way to identify an infected animal from external symptoms. Thus, persons wishing to minimize their risk should avoid exposure to any and all armadillos."
No, your pet armadillo isn't different. There's no way to tell. Please, just get a puppy instead.
The newsletter also points out that people should be deterred from cooking and eating armadillos, just in case.
But it's worth remembering that the chances of a human catching leprosy from anywhere is low to start with, because 95 percent of us are immune to the disease these days, CNN reports–but it is possible for people to spread the disease to each other through saliva.
Dr. Sunil Joshi, president-elect of the Duval County Medical Society in Florida, told CNN a possible reason for the number of cases in Florida in recent years could be that new developments are uprooting armadillos from their traditional habitats, with more of the animals roaming around human housing developments than in the past.
"Now these creatures are coming out in the daytime, and the people who are getting exposed are those working outside," he said.
Leprosy can be fatal if it's left untreated, but is curable if it's caught early enough.
"Symptoms mainly affect the skin, nerves, and mucous membranes (the soft, moist areas just inside the body's openings)," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.