Between the humidity, the heat, the bugs, people standing their ground and the generally acknowledged, ahem, eccentricity of the state’s residents, calling Florida the Sunshine State seems like one heck of a misnomer. These days, about all you can say for Florida is that Mickey Mouse lives there (and that might be a con, too, depending on who you ask). As if there weren’t enough reasons to make you swear off Florida for good, now you can add biblical afflictions to the list.
In Volusia county, a patch in eastern Florida where all things named Daytona are found, the Health Department confirms that three separate people are suffering from cases of leprosy. For those who haven’t heard of the disease or who thought it was something only Jesus had to contend with, leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is caused by a bacteria with a really fancy name, mycobacterium leprae. People infected with the bacterium can expect to experience “numbness, joint pain and weakness.” People hanging around the infected can expect to have their stomachs turn at the sight of boils and skin lesions that tend to pop up on victims. Untreated leprosy can also lead to blindness and the disease itself is actually complicated by a body’s natural immune response. Perhaps the most spine-tingling aspect of leprosy, however, is that you could have it right now and you might not even be aware. That’s because leprosy takes anywhere from five to 20 years to incubate.
In America, the disease is easily treatable (yes, even in Florida). In spite of that fact, mycobacterium leprae is a pugnacious little sucker that can actually linger in the environment after it leaves its host. For that reason (along with some other geopolitical gobbledygook) leprosy is still a major problem in countries that feature prominently in Save the Children commercials. In the US, though, it’s almost exclusively relegated to the Southern States and even then it’s pretty uncommon. The Florida Department of Health reports that about 2-4 cases have sprung up in Florida each year since the disease was first introduced in 1921.
The primary suspect behind this outbreak are Volusia County’s armadillos. The armored mammal is the only animal known to carry mycobacterium leprae. Of the 20 known varieties of armadillo, only the nine-banded armadillo calls the United States home. While historically known to patrol the southern United States, in recent years, the creature’s habitat has been expanding to the point where nine-banded armadillos have been spotted as far north as Illinois. Again, though, it’s super rare and you’re most likely not at risk unless you enjoy finding and cuddling free range armadillos or you’re a big fan of armadillo fashion (which is, apparently, a thing).
That said, for your own safety, it might still be a good idea to steer clear of Florida (and not just because of the infectious diseases). You have been warned.