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Cases of Leprosy Surge in Central Florida, CDC Warns Travelers It's Now Endemic

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Florida is at the forefront of a leprosy outbreak with nearly one-fifth of leprosy cases in the U.S. originating from the state, a research letter recently published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

The disease, which was mentioned in prominent biblical accounts, is characterized by lesions that primarily affect the skin and peripheral nervous system. It's a somewhat rare disease in the U.S., but lately it has been growing at a steady and constant rate.

"Florida, USA, has witnessed an increased incidence of leprosy cases lacking traditional risk factors. Those trends, in addition to decreasing diagnoses in foreign-born persons, contribute 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," it reads. 

Central Florida has accounted for 81% of cases reported in Florida and almost one-fifth of nationally reported cases.

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The letter points to the case of a 54-year-old man from the area who contracted lepromatous leprosy. This type of leprosy is one of the three main types and is more contagious. 

The man has lived in Central Florida his whole life and sought treatment at a dermatology clinic for a painful and progressive erythematous rash. He denied any recent foreign or domestic travel, exposure to armadillos (which sometimes carry the bacteria for leprosy), prolonged contact with immigrants from leprosy-endemic countries, or connections with someone known to have leprosy.

Transmitted from Humans and Animals

The letter notes the disease can be transmitted through respiratory droplets. 

He is currently being treated. 

Meanwhile, a higher percentage of unrelated leprosy cases in the southern United States were found to carry the same unique strain of M. leprae as nine-banded armadillos in the region, suggesting a strong likelihood of zoonotic transmission, the CDC explains. However, the recent cases found in Georgia and Florida lack zoonotic exposure. 

Leprosy Spread by International Migrants

The letter admits that international migration of persons with leprosy is a potential source of autochthonous transmission. And Florida has now become an endemic location for leprosy. It warns travelers to this area to be aware of the contagious disease. 

Infection with leprosy is rare as 95% of people are naturally immune. Standard antibiotics can be used to treat it.

The modern term for leprosy is Hansen's disease. The National Hansen's Disease Program reports 159 new cases were reported in the U.S. in 2020, the most recent year for data.

If left untreated, Hansen's Disease can cause blindness, ulcers, and disfigurements.

Nearly 2 million people are permanently disabled as a result of this disease.  

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About The Author


Talia Wise has served as a multi-media producer for, CBN Newswatch, The Prayer Link, and CBN News social media outlets. Prior to joining CBN News she worked for Fox Sports Florida producing and reporting. Talia earned a master’s degree in journalism from Regent University and a bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia.