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MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – Cases of leprosy, a long-lasting infection caused by bacteria, are up in Florida—and experts are saying armadillos are to blame.

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Nine cases have been reported across Florida this year, a number which almost matches the state’s average of 10 cases per year, according to the Department of Health.

Some armadillos in the southern United States are naturally infected with leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease.

Armadillos are common all over Florida, especially in wooded areas. The most recent diagnosis for leprosy came in Flagler County three weeks ago.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, armadillos are the only animal to carry leprosy. The disease can be spread through saliva.

The risk is low for a person to get the disease from an armadillo but the CDC advises people to avoid contact with the animal.

Leprosy has been reported in Florida since 1921, according to the Florida Department of Health. Up until 1975, an average of four cases were reported each year, with 80-percent of the 226 cases occurring in persons residing in Monroe, Dade and Hillsborough Counties at the time of onset. During the next two decades, 1976-1995, another 82 cases were reported.

The disease, according to the CDC, was once feared as a highly contagious and devastating disease. Now, however, the disease is very rare and easily treated. Early diagnosis and treatment usually prevent disability related to the disease.

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