OAN’s Shawntel Smith-Hill
6:13 PM – Tuesday, August 1, 2023
Cases of Leprosy have begun to spring up in central Florida, seemingly out of nowhere. A new analysis in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) journal says the disease could be endemic to the region.
The authors of the journal said that Florida has “witnessed an increased incidence of leprosy cases lacking traditional risk factors,” with trends contributing to “rising evidence that leprosy has become endemic in the southeastern United States.”
“Travel to Florida should be considered when conducting leprosy contact tracing in any state,” they wrote.
Despite cases of leprosy being rare in the United States, with only 159 cases reported in 2020, results from the EID study found that central Florida accounted for the majority of those cases.
A whopping 81% of cases reported in the state originated in central Florida, and about 34% of new patients between 2015 and 2020 appeared to have acquired the disease locally.
“Leprosy has been historically uncommon in the United States; incidence peaked around 1983, and a drastic reduction in the annual number of documented cases occurred from the 1980s through 2000,” the EID said in its report. “However, since then, reports demonstrate a gradual increase in the incidence of leprosy in the United States.”
“Leprosy is here in the United States. It’s very low incidence and a very low endemic country, but it is here,” said Linda Adams, chief of the National Hansen’s Disease Program (NHDP) Laboratory Research Branch.
A 54-year-old landscaper was seen at a dermatology clinic in Orlando for what appeared to be a painful spreading rash after several previous doctors had been stumped. Biopsies taken by Dr. Rajiv Nathoo confirmed his hunch.
Results from the biopsies came back positive for leprosy, a diagnosis he described as something “you read in your textbooks.”
“It’s really rare still,” Nathoo said. “These numbers are still relatively super low here. We’re not that concerned with it.”
The slow-spreading nature of the disease, compounded by its extreme rarity in the U.S., has hindered efforts to stop the spread of the disease.
The only way to diagnose the disease is through biopsies, but the CDC report said physicians can help identify and reduce the spread of leprosy by reporting cases and further supporting efforts to identify routes of transmission.
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