Leprosy is both incredibly rare and treatable in the United States. There are only about 150-250 cases of leprosy in the U.S. each year. Most of these people get it when they travel overseas. But what about people who haven't traveled outside the country? The government believes those people most likely contract it from armadillos.
Today, leprosy is found mostly in tropical regions of the world; at least 250,000 new cases are reported globally every year, with 150-250 cases occurring in the United States. Leprosy is treatable with antibiotics but is easily misdiagnosed, and delays in therapy increase the likelihood of disability and deformity.
Leprosy was thought to be spread only between humans via respiratory droplets. Armadillos are the only other known natural hosts of leprosy bacteria. These data confirm a long-suspected link between armadillos and the 30 to 40 new cases of leprosy seen each year in U.S.-born Americans who have never traveled abroad to regions where the disease is prevalent.
Image: Armadillo in Florida in 2010 via Getty Images