Using genetic sequencing machines, researchers were able to confirm that about a third of the leprosy cases that arise each year in the United States almost certainly result from contact with infected armadillos. The cases are concentrated in Louisiana and Texas, where some people hunt, skin and eat armadillos.

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is an ancient scourge that has largely disappeared, but each year about 150 to 250 people in the United States and 250,000 in the world contract the illness. As long as the disease is identified relatively quickly, treatment with antibiotics — a one- to two-year regimen with three different drugs — offers an effective cure. But every year dozens of people in the United States do not recognize their skin lesions for what they are early enough and suffer lifelong nerve damage as a result.