Skip to main content

Medical Expert Warns of Possible Leprosy Outbreak Among Homeless in Los Angeles

Share This article

CBN News has reported on the public health crisis created by the homeless population in Los Angeles, CA.  Now, one medical expert is warning the city could see an outbreak of leprosy.

Los Angeles has approximately 60,000 homeless people, many living in tent cities contaminated by piles of garbage, human waste, and germ-infested rodents.

In a column for the online publication The Hill, Dr. Marc Siegel, a professor of medicine and medical director at Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Health, says that's the perfect breeding ground for a disease like leprosy, also known as Hansen's Disease. 

Siegel writes that since most of LA's homeless do not have adequate shelter, hygiene or medical treatment, it could become a dangerous breeding ground for the disease.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), scientists do not know exactly how leprosy is spread between people. They think it may be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes and a healthy person breathes in the bacteria known as "Mycobacterium leprae." 

But the CDC also notes on its website, "Prolonged, close contact with someone with untreated leprosy over many months is needed to catch the disease."

Leprosy deadens nerves, causing numbness in hands and feet and it causes skin lesions and nodules, leading to a deformed appearance. 

Many Christians have heard of the disease because of the biblical references in which Jesus healed the leper. And even though most people think of leprosy from ancient times, according to the CDC, there are more than 200,000 new cases of leprosy reported every year.  India has two-thirds of the leprosy cases, which also is the country that has one-third of the world's poor.  

But leprosy is not just confined to other countries. The CDC reports there are between 100 and 200 new cases of leprosy reported in the US every year.  

Keck Medical Center at the University of Southern California released a study last month that reviewed the records of 187 leprosy patients treated by the medical center during the last 45 years and found most of the patients were Latino and from Mexico, where the disease is more common. 

Left untreated, leprosy may prove deadly, and even after a delayed diagnosis, the side effects of the disease are permanent, even with antibiotic treatment. 

Siegel writes that other diseases could reemerge soon in LA County, including typhus

a disease carried by fleas that feed on rats.  The rats feed on the garbage that is easily seen in "typhus zones" where homeless people congregate.

Although the disease can also be treated with antibiotics, the problem is how to identify and treat the disease among the homeless.  

CBN News contacted the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health for a comment regarding this story and received the following statement:

"Over the last decade, Los Angeles County had between 0 and 4 cases of Hansen's Disease (leprosy) reported per year, with an average of 2. Most of the cases occurred among persons who were foreign-born. No local transmission has been identified," the statement read. 

"Los Angeles County Public Health has not identified any cases among persons experiencing homelessness. Given the low number of cases and no evidence of local transmission, there is no risk for an outbreak," the statement noted.

"Hansen's Disease is not highly infectious, but rather requires prolonged and close contact for transmission to occur. Patients under treatment are not at risk for spreading disease to others," the statement concluded. 

Share This article

About The Author

Steve Warren is a senior multimedia producer for CBN News. Warren has worked in the news departments of television stations and cable networks across the country. In addition, he also worked as a producer-director in television production and on-air promotion. A Civil War historian, he authored the book The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory. It was the companion book to the television documentary titled Last Raid at Cabin Creek currently streaming on Amazon Prime. He holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. in Communication from the University of