Doctors are warning about a trend of increasing cases of leprosy in the United States.
Recent data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals a disproportionate number of leprosy cases in Central Florida, suggesting the disease might be endemic in the state.
"According to the National Hansen’s Disease Program, 159 new cases were reported in the United States in 2020; Florida was among the top reporting states," the report reads. Central Florida, in particular, accounted for 81% of cases reported in Florida and almost one fifth of nationally reported cases."
The report also found that about 34% of new patients between 2015 and 2020 appeared to have acquired the disease locally.
The CDC classifies a disease as endemic when a particular disease remains consistently prevalent in a specific geographical area, such as a state or country.
Leprosy, one of the oldest known illnesses, better known as Hansen’s disease, is an infectious disease caused by a slow-growing bacteria. It’s still considered very rare, as there are about 150 to 250 cases reported each year in the U.S.
However, the report advised health care professionals to consider leprosy as a possible diagnosis for patients who have visited Central Florida.
"Travel to this area, even in the absence of other risk factors, should prompt consideration of leprosy in the appropriate clinical context," the report reads.
Leprosy attacks the nerves and can cause swelling under the skin, and while it’s curable, the main concern, according to the CDC, is that it could take anywhere from 9 months to 20 years from the time of exposure for symptoms to appear, making it very hard to find the source of the infection.
The symptoms include a pale or red rash, drier, thicker skin, painless lumps or swelling, numbness, and nosebleeds.
According to the World Health Organization, leprosy is "transmitted through droplets from the nose and mouth," and if left untreated, it could cause permanent disabilities.
The CDC also says that in the southern United States, certain armadillos naturally carry the bacteria causing the disease in humans, potentially transmitting it to people.
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