Cases of leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, have been on the rise in Florida and the southeastern United States over the past decade.
According to a new report published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Leprosy is a rare bacterial infection that primarily affects the nerves and can lead to swelling under the skin.
The research paper revealed that reported cases of leprosy have doubled in the Southeast region over the last 10 years.
Central Florida, in particular, has witnessed a disproportionately high number of cases, suggesting that the area might be an endemic location for the disease.
This means that leprosy has a consistent presence in the region’s population, rather than sporadic outbreaks.
159 new cases of leprosy were reported in the United States in 2020, according to the National Hansen’s Disease Program, with Florida being among the top reporting states.
Central Florida alone accounted for a staggering 81% of the reported cases in the state and nearly one-fifth of cases reported nationally.
The exact mode of leprosy transmission remains uncertain, but it is not believed to spread through casual physical contact, such as handshakes or sitting next to an infected person.
Current scientific understanding suggests that the bacteria responsible for leprosy can be transmitted through droplets from an infected person’s coughs or sneezes during prolonged close contact.
Additionally, contact with armadillos, some of which carry leprosy-causing bacteria, may pose a risk of infection.
A recent leprosy case in Florida involved a 54-year-old landscaper who had no known contact with infected animals or people and had not traveled to countries where the disease is more common.
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Symptoms, Early Treatment, and Public Health Concerns
Symptoms of leprosy may include a rash with pigmented, scaly skin lesions, along with disfiguring nodules on the face and hands.
However, the main differentiating factor is the loss of sensation in the affected area, distinguishing it from a typical rash, which is usually itchy.
Considering the increasing number of cases, health professionals are urged to keep leprosy in mind as a potential diagnosis for patients who have spent time in Central Florida, even in the absence of other risk factors.
Fortunately, leprosy is treatable, and patients typically receive a combination of two or three antibiotics for one to two years.
Early treatment is crucial to prevent nerve damage, which, if left untreated, can lead to paralysis and debilitating effects on the hands and feet.
However, it is important to note that any damage occurring prior to starting treatment cannot be reversed.
As the number of cases rises, public health authorities and medical professionals must remain vigilant in detecting and managing leprosy cases to prevent further complications and curb the spread of the disease in the region.
Heightened awareness and timely intervention are vital in addressing this growing public health concern.
Source: NBC News