A spike in cases of one of history's most feared diseases has been blamed on a less-than-terrifying animal: the armadillo. Florida has seen nine leprosy cases so far this year, compared to as few as two in a typical year, and health officials believe the increase in cases has been caused by human contact with armadillos, CNN reports. Armadillos harbor the bacteria that causes leprosy, and researchers determined a few years ago that they can spread it to humans, though it would probably take repeated contact. The disease is a lot more treatable than it was in the days of leper colonies, but authorities have urged Floridians to stay away from the animals to be on the safe side.
"Generally, you don't want to be playing with wild animals anyway," a state health department spokesman tells USA Today. Armadillos are shy, nocturnal creatures found in much of the US, and the president-elect of the Duval County Medical Society tells CNN there's a reason why the rise in leprosy cases is happening in Florida. "New homes are being developed, and we are tearing down armadillos' homes in the process," he says. "Now these creatures are coming out in the daytime, and the people who are getting exposed are those working outside." (A Georgia man who shot at an armadillo killed the animal but also injured his mother-in-law.)